Heath gets $2M grant for public safety building

 

Greenfield Recorder 02/07/2015, Page C03

By DIANE BRONCACCIO Recorder Staff

HEATH — If this town of 700 people can support a new public safety complex, a state grant will pay for half the cost.

For 15 years, the town has been talking about the need for a bigger, more modern Town Highway Garage/ Fire/Police Station. And now, with the help of a Community Innovation Challenge Grant for up to $2 million, the town may be able to have a new public safety complex at a more affordable cost, says Robert Bourke, chairman of the Public Safety Building Committee.

With help from state Rep. Paul Mark, state Sen. Benjamin Downing and former Gov. Deval Patrick, Heath secured the grant for a public safety complex, said Bourke. To make use of the grant, the town has until July 2015 to approve the building project and secure financing for the town’s 50 percent.

As a result, the Public Safety Building Committee is planning to host several public presentations this spring, to discuss plans and financing with residents. The first one will be during the Feb. 24 special town meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m.

At last spring’s annual town meeting, the committee showed townspeople a public safety complex design calling for a 16,250-square-foot building that would include bays for highway trucks, fire trucks, police trucks and office space for an emergency operations center as well as office spaces for the Police, Fire and Highway departments.

“We reduced the size of the original building by about 3,400 square feet,” said Bourke. “Last June, people said it cost too much, was too big and too fancy.”

So the engineering company, Reinhardt Associates, reduced the size of the prefabricated metal building to about 12,812 square feet, which also reduced the estimated cost. Bourke said the building is expectedto cost $3 million, although the plan is to raise the total $4 million to cover all contingencies. Unspent money would be returned to the state and taxpayers.

“If we don’t get debt approval, then the grant goes away,” said Bourke. “And the odds of getting a $2 million grant later for a small town is very, very unlikely.”

Bourke said another committee proposed the town build a new municipal complex in 1999, Now the buildings are at least 50 years old and inadequate for modern vehicles.

Bourke said the highway garage is a second-hand building that was taken down and moved up to Branch Hill Road. The fire station has no water, and the tiny Emergency Operations Center doesn’t have water or a toilet, he said.

“The Fire Department doesn’t have facilities to wash carcinogens off their turnout gear, there’s only about 12 inches between the fire trucks and the doors,” said Bourke. “There are black-mold issues, and if you have 2 inches of snow fall off the roof, in front of the (fire station) doors, you can’t get the fire trucks out, because of the low clearance.”

He said the highway garage lacks adequate ventilation; there is no break room and the highway superintendent’s office is very tiny. He said the highway trucks can’t all be garaged. “We have four plow-trucks and only three bays,” he said. “The grader has to be outside in the winter.” Bourke said the town owns at least $5 million worth of equipment, which wears better if it can be housed indoors in winter.

“Heath is always going to have roads and always going to have winter, and medical calls,” he said. “Everyone gets a benefit from this in town.”

Also, Bourke believes a clean, more modern facility would encourage more people to volunteer for the Fire Department. Also, he said, volunteer firefighters would be able to train in a better facility.

To get the grant, the town will have to approve borrowing the $2 million matching fund; however the committee doesn’t expect the project to cost the full amount. He said the committee is looking at a U.S. Department of Agriculture low-interest 30-year loan. The loan would add about 95 cents to the tax rate, he said.

Bourke said the committee is putting together a brochure that they hope to have in time for the Feb. 24 presentation.