[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to email@example.com.
This is the first of at least two letters from the Public Safety Study Committee as we approach Special Town Meeting. Normally, I wouldn’t accept multiple letters from the same party on the same issue. But they have convinced me that the letters will be covering different aspects of the project. Given the scale and scope of the project voters are being asked to decide on in two weeks, I am allowing it.]
To the Editor:
The Public Safety Study Committee (“Committee”) has worked tirelessly over two plus years to evaluate the needs of the Town of Southborough’s Police and Fire Departments’ facilities and recommend various options to Board of Selectmen. The voting members of our Committee are made up of tax paying residents with experience in the both the public and private sectors (police officers, firefighters, architect, accounting and finance, and broad private sector business backgrounds). We often hear rumors or misconstrued facts in our conversations with residents about the proposed project. With the Special Town Meeting fast approaching, this Committee wants to ensure that all the Southborough voters have the right facts to make their decision and can benefit from our 2 years of research and deliberation.
Over the next few weeks, we will submit a few letters to the editor documenting questions that we receive on a frequent basis, questions submitted to us via our Committee website, or those that are posed in various public forums.
This week’s letter will focus on the need for new facilities and the site options examined with helpful links included along the way in case you want further details. Stay tuned for details on the site plan, building size, project cost, and the interaction of proposed facility with the contiguous parcels (remainder of golf course, Choate Field, and Woodward School).
Have any questions on the need for constructing a new Police and Fire Station?
Here is a link to some of the common frequently asked questions regarding the need:
The links below provide detailed pictures of the current conditions in Southborough as compared to the proposed conditions (Police compared to recently constructed facility in Weston and Fire compared to recently constructed facility in Holden):
IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBT ABOUT THE CURRENT CONDITIONS, FEEL FREE TO CALL THE POLICE AND FIRE DEPARTMENT TO SCHEDULE A STATION TOUR TO COME TO YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS.
Why can’t we just renovate the existing facilities?
A significant amount of time was spent by the Committee examining the feasibility of renovating the existing facilities to meet the current space needs. Specific to the Police Department, the Committee was advised by 4 different architects that it was not practical to renovate the existing facility. Specific to the Fire Department, any renovation would trigger certain building code requirements bringing the cost of any renovation approximately equal to the cost of new construction.
Ultimately, it was determined that due to the age of these structures and the requirements to bring them up to building code, the cost would be almost the same as if a new facility were to be constructed. A renovation would also come well short of meeting the required space needs without further land acquisition. In addition, there was no way to renovate the existing facilities without displacing the Fire Department for over a year, creating significant cost and operational issues.
Has the Committee looked at a stand-alone Police Station and if so what would that project cost?
The Committee believes that a combined Public Safety Facility is the best option for the town to pursue. Therefore, a separate Police Station was not pursued or fully examined. The Committee believes that a combined facility is the best option for the Town primarily due to the fact that it will result in 10 % less square footage than having a separate police and fire facility, which saves at least $2 million in construction and soft costs. Longer term, there would only be one building to maintain, so as systems start to reach the end of their useful life, there will only be one system to replace instead of two.
Where else has the Committee looked at for property around town and why did we opt not to pursue?
The Committee reviewed multiple spots around town, including the existing Public Safety site. A presentation of the pros and cons of each site is located here:
I thought you recommended to build on the current Public Safety Site? Why are we proposing to build on the St. Mark’s Golf Course?
During our evaluation of sites for a possible combined Public Safety Facility, we only examined locations in a central area of Town that were in town control or were for sale. Ultimately, due to the immediate need for these facilities, the only viable option was to build on the current site. However, to build on the current site and meet the space needs of both the Police and Fire Departments required land adjacent to the property that was owned by the St. Mark’s School. Unfortunately, this land was NOT for sale! This makes it very hard to build without taking land by eminent domain which would have required significant time, effort, and ultimately cost to each Taxpayer.
However, a counter offer was made by the St. Mark’s School in an effort to help meet the town’s needs for public safety, while also satisfying their desire to own land contiguous to their campus.
Details of the land swap agreement are outlined in the below documents:
The Committee has voted that this site accommodates all the space needs for both the police and fire departments, while not impacting the future use of the remainder of the site. The plans that will be presented at Town Meeting (and discussed in a submission next week) will show how the proposed Public Safety Facility can integrate into the site and co-exist with Golf Course operations, while leaving the option to potentially improve the traffic flow and parking for the Woodward School and Choate Field.
What are the alternatives if Article 1 (Land Swap Agreement plus Public Safety Building Construction) does not pass to address the public safety facility needs?
There are NO sites central to the center of town that would accommodate a combined public safety facility. Therefore, the likely result is that each department’s needs would need to be addressed separately. Potential options include:
1) Building a new Police Station on a separate piece of land and build new Fire Department in the current location. Potential fallbacks to this solution are:
a) Additional cost for having two buildings (outlined below),
b) Potential land acquisition for Stand-Alone Police Station,
c) Additional time and cost needed for design,
d) Potential environmental remediation on the current public safety site, and
e) The need to relocate the Fire Department for up to 18 months which adds significant cost (outlined below) and presents significant operational challenges
2) Attempt to acquire additional land at the current public safety site to accommodate a combined facility. Potential fallbacks to this solution are:
a) Land Acquisition Cost (cost unknown),
b) Possibility of Eminent Domain or extended negotiations,
c) Potential environmental remediation on the current public safety site, and
d) The need to relocate the Fire Department for up to 18 months which adds significant cost (outlined below) and presents significant operational challenges
The following is a list of potential additional costs should the town need to proceed with either option above for purpose of satisfying the Public Safety Building Construction needs:
For every $1 million added of project cost, it will cost the average taxpayer an extra $12 to $15 annually.
It is disingenuous and financially irresponsible to imply that the Committee has other options on town owned land to build the Public Safety Facility. Those options cost $4 million (or more) than any cost currently being proposed and ALL require land acquisition.
We welcome your questions and the opportunity to clear up any confusion you have. You have two options to learn more:
Submit a question online to be answered in a future letter: Ask the Committee
Attend our next public information session:
Monday February 27th, 7 PM, Woodward School Cafeteria
Stay tuned for an update in the coming week on the final design being presented to Town Meeting, along with cost estimate details.
Public Safety Study Committee