This week, the Board of Selectmen were briefed on the public safety building project. 3 out of 4 presented options required acquiring land from St. Mark’s School. The “very preliminary” price tags for all construction options was around $20 million.
The estimated cost to an average homeowner was $440 for the first year, then decreasing over the 20 year borrowing term to $260 in the last year.
Chair Al Hamilton of the Public Safety Study Committee walked the board through their process and four options. The committee didn’t make a recommendation on any of the options. Instead, they put the ball back in the board’s court, asking selectmen to decide:
“Whether the cost of meeting the requirements provides sufficient benefit to the taxpayers and citizens to justify proceeding”
According to Hamilton, the committee believed that their charge was only to look at options for the project that met all requirements. Those requirements were created by the chiefs of police and fire with the Town Administrator, Mark Purple. They were then approved by the committee.
Based on the restrictions, they eliminated a $13.2 million option that would renovate and add onto just the 2nd floor of the Fire Station. The least expensive option they offered was estimated at $19.7 million. They didn’t explore intermediate options between the two.
Hamilton confirmed for Selectmen Paul Cimino that the committee unanimously approved the requirements as reasonable. Since the project was necessary, Cimino followed that the question wasn’t if the cost was justified, just if they could afford to do what was necessary.
Appearing to nudge selectmen to apply fiscal constraints, Hamilton clarified that requirements were developed without them. He followed:
I spent four years working at an MIT spinoff that does requirements analysis. . .
Every requirements analysis that I have ever participated in is a circular process where there are needs that are identified. . . there are constraints that are applied to those needs, those needs are then re-identified and re-worked, and eventually you narrow in on something that can be sold.
Accepting the explanation, Cimino responded that wasn’t a question they could answer that night.
Hamilton wasn’t the only one concerned by costs. Chair John Rooney said he’d been dismayed that the project jumped from an eliminated $13.2 million to the lowest $19.7 million option. Referring to homeowners on fixed incomes, Rooney indicated he wanted to explore lowering the cost.
Back to the renovation and construction options presented for the project –
All options would keep the station at or overlapping its current site.
The committee rejected land overlapping the Transfer Station as the site of a new complex. Hamilton explained that the issue of rapid access proved too difficult. Committee members also believed that moving Public Works facilities, including “the hopper”, would add too much to the expense.
Three of the four options require acquiring land from St. Mark’s School – between .67 to 1.75 acres. The other, simply requires a zoning variance for the building to be built out to the property line.
Rooney verified that the board has been talking to St. Mark’s School about options for acquiring abutting land. But any decision would have to be made by the school’s board which won’t meet until January.
Three options would require a temporary relocation of the Fire Department. Hamilton said that Purple is researching options for handling that.
The alternative would build a new station on “the meadow” next to the current complex, almost to the corner of Route 30 & 85. That one requires the most land, and leaves the Town with 1.25 surplus acres. Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf asked the committee to check in with engineers for the Main Street redesign to make sure the plan works.
Phaneuf also urged looking at flipping the placement of the fire and police stations on that plan to move the noise and lights further from houses on the street.
Two options require demolition of the current police station (the former annex to Peters High School). Opposition by the Historical Commission to demolishing the annex was just one of the roadblocks for an earlier derailed project to replace the police station from 2006-2010..
This time around, Rooney stressed the need for building consensus among Town committees before bringing something to Town Meeting.
You can take a look at Hamilton’s presentation here, starting 32 minutes into Southborough Access Media’s recording of the December 1st meeting.
AL Hamilton, Just curious. Do you know when our taxes start to go down because all the bonds have been paid for the schools. Can you get any leverage to close a school to build this facility? Perhaps close and sell or use Woodward as the new facility?
1. Our debt service has been steadily declining over the last few years. In Fiscal ’18 (7/17 to 6/18) our local debt service falls substantially as we finally pay off the Southboro schools.
2. Our Algonquin obligations will continue for about 8 more years. (About $450k in the regional budget).
3. In terms of timing the new Public Safety facility fits in a debt plan. However, we should be aware that the voters have the option of keeping the money in their pockets. In effect, when we built the schools, we said “This is a worthwhile project and we are asking you to fund this project with a temporary tax which will end when the bond is paid off.” Now we have a new worthwhile project and we have to ask the voters whether the benefit is worth the tax.
4. I do not believe that any Municipal official has approached the Schools about a surplus building (regardless of the reality). I am probably not the right person to do this but it is something that the BOS could inquire about.