Public Safety Building Update: Change to financing, completion delay, and debate over exhaust system

Above: Mid-construction, complicated safety issues around the apparatus bay (garage) have caused some headaches for officials overseeing the project. (images from April report)

It’s time for another update on the Town’s big construction project – the Public Safety Building. This time, there’s quite a bit to share.

Last week, the Board of Selectmen supported a new plan for financing the Public Safety Building project. It offers an estimated potential long term savings of $1.7M on the project. The trade off is higher spending in FY20. But, Finance is hopeful that FY20 taxes won’t be impacted – or not by much.

That same night, the board was told that the project completion will be delayed by another 3 weeks. They were also updated on a hopefully resolved controversy among Fire Department personnel over safety concerns. The two items aren’t linked – but both relate to complicated safety issues around the Fire Station apparatus bay.

Financing Update

Town Treasurer Brian Ballantine presented a new financing strategy to the board and the Advisory Committee. Past planning had the Town splitting the next phase of project financing by issuing bonds in June 2019 and 2020 each over 25-30 years.

Finance is now recommending combining those to one bond. The Town will issue one “about $15M” 25 year bond this June. It will take advantage of lower than expected interest rates and eliminate an additional “issuance cost” for a second bond.

The strategy will cost an additional $174K over what had been planned for financing the project in FY20. Ballantine explained that the change is within his authority. But since it may impact the FY20 tax rate that was forecast to TM voters, he wanted selectmen’s and Advisory’s support.

The Treasurer pointed out that forecast tax rates are never written in stone. There can always be fluctuations between spring TM and when the rate is set in the fall.

Still, he expressed optimism that a projected increase in revenues and other savings will help offset all or most of the new costs. That would allow sticking to the projected 2.62% tax rate or close. (His presentation handouts indicated a range of 2.62% -3.18%.)

Advisory’s Kathy Cook said that her committee expressed excitement about the long term savings. But they hadn’t had a chance to vote on it. She opined that it even if interest rates surprised them by going down, they wouldn’t later regret this decision. Selectmen voted to support the strategy.

Construction Update

The latest monthly progress report was issued on the safety complex. (Click here to open it.) The project manager notes that a potential schedule change was still to be determined. Last week, Public Safety Building Chair Jason Malinowski walked the BOS through new timeline changes and recent controversies on the big project. 

The chair indicated hope that issues are resolved. But he also shared that as they approach the finish line, new asks keep coming in. He said the committee has taken to meeting every two weeks to stay on top of issues and keep the project as far under budget as possible.


One of the unforeseen issues was complications over the sprinkler system in the Fire Department’s apparatus bay. Mid-project, concerns were raised that the sprinkler system might not be the type needed for their facility. The question was raised to the state Fire Marshall to ensure that there wouldn’t be an issue down the road. The Marshall confirmed it was the right choice, but waiting for the answer cost 1½ months. 

Extra time to install sprinklers was one of several schedule delay requests from the general contractor. The committee agreed to grant 3 more weeks, extending the substantial completion date to August 1st. (That’s one month from the initial project schedule deadline.) That delay will also allow for completion of the other items.

That substantial completion won’t include full landscaping. Since grass grows more successfully when planted in the fall than mid-summer, the seeding will wait.

Given the project scale, Selectman Brian Shea told Malinowski the committee shouldn’t beat itself up over the delay.

Controversy over Exhaust System

According to Malinowski, he and BOS Chair Lisa Braccio recently received a series of questions, comments, and concerns from fire personnel. He characterized it as based on misinformation and personnel not having paid attention to certain aspects of the project earlier in the process.

On Patriot’s Day, he led a meeting for all union and non-union personnel to ask questions. In the end, the concerns brought back to the committee were “whittled down” to two, and eventually one. The big concern was the exhaust system selected.

Recent reports of high cancer rates among firefighters have highlighted the frequent exposure personnel have to toxins and carcinogens. Particles from the exhaust of vehicles in the bay are among the hazards. Exhaust systems are aimed at reducing risks. 

According to Malinowski, if you research the different exhaust system options, all of them have issues. The controversy among personnel seems to be based on the surprise to some at learning that the new station has a different system installed than they have been using. 

At the current Fire Station, a direct source capture system has personnel connect an exhaust hose to the tailpipes of the large diesel trucks. Based on the recommendation of then-Chief Joseph Mauro, the new building was designed with a recirculating air filtration system. That system “sucks air” from the lower level of the room and runs it through a filter system.

Some SFD employees were worried that the new system would increase their exposure to toxins. Malinowski said changing the system would add 6 figures to the project as well as more time.

The committee asked Mauro to submit a new memo re-explaining his 2017 decision. That memo explains that each system has pros and cons. One con of the current system is exposure to exhaust from vehicles other than the big diesel trucks:

A direct source capture system has a specific attachment on the tailpipe to hook up the exhaust hose and is only used on the diesel powered vehicles. This does not include the smaller gasoline powered vehicles (Fire Prevention and Chiefs car) or other small gasoline or diesel powered equipment that may get run inside the building during routine maintenance and would not be captured by this system.

Another con was reduced flexibility in where vehicles are parked in the bay. You can read his full explanation here.

According to Malinowski, discussion between employees and the PSBC became contentious at a recent meeting. Minutes from the April 22nd meeting share:

Lt. Aspesi said that the direct system captures the exhaust and it goes outside the building. The air filtration system takes the exhaust from the knee level past the body and to the roof where it is filtered. The filter only removes particles and it does not capture the gases.

That turmoil was a week before the new chief officially stepped into his job. The committee held off on a decision to ask Chief Steven Achilles to weigh in. Malinowski said the new chief told the board to go with the system installed under Mauro’s original recommendation. But Achilles did reserve the right to continue to study the situation with the department and come back to them before they close out any bonding for the project.

As of a tour recently given to firefighters, Malinowski believed that everyone was pretty much on the same path for moving forward.

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Kelly Roney
3 years ago

Looks as though recirculation and filtration is better for particulates (and automatic) but does nothing about CO, CO2, SOx, or NOx, other than some monitoring. Guess the station is going to need to keep its CO detectors up to date, as a backup for the system.

3 years ago

Why are we asking the old chief questions ? He doesn’t work there anymore, Let the new chief in on things, he just may have a better plan.

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