NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 13, 2013

Committee favors Morgan Ave. parcels for public safety complex

BY JENNIFER SOLIS
CORRESPONDENT

---- — NEWBURY — The Public Safety Complex Committee offered selectmen a presentation this week detailing the history of the proposed new construction project it feels is the right answer to the space and programming needs of police, fire, emergency management departments and Town Hall offices.

At a regular selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, chairman Martha Taylor began her PowerPoint presentation with a review of the background that brought her committee to this point.

In 2004 a self-evaluation of the police department, which eventually became part of an inventory process for the 2006 Master Plan, found the current police station, located in the basement of Town Hall, was too small and functionally obsolete. The facility was subjected to repeated flooding and didn’t meet current building codes.

The Master Plan recommendation was to relocate the station, potentially developing a public safety complex as part of that process. The option of expanding the station into the first floor of Town Hall and moving town offices into the Woodbridge School was explored in 2008.

In May 2012 the Capital Planning Committee issued a site inspection report calling for a space needs assessment and an investigation into possible redevelopment options.

Appointed the following month, the Public Safety Site Selection Committee offered several possible spots for a new police or public safety facility, including Woodbridge School, property on Route 1 owned by The Governor’s Academy, Manter Field, the public library and the Town Forest on Boston Road. A combined Town Hall, police and fire stations at 25 High Road was also discussed.

The Public Safety Complex Committee, appointed in June, took a closer look at the site selection’s preferred location — two parcels on Morgan Avenue owned by Fire Protection Company #2. It found that in addition to the needs of the police department, the fire department lacked space for apparatus and facilities critical to meeting current fire safety standards. Mechanical and electrical systems were past their useful life.

Creating a safety complex would be mutually beneficial from both a financial and an operational perspective, the committee decided. It proposed a new building with 9,902 square feet for fire and emergency management departments and 9,403 square feet for police.

The estimated cost — excluding any purchase price for the land should the town choose that route — is $9.5 million. An additional project to incorporate the basement space and expand the first floor of Town Hall for use by other town departments could cost as much as $1.1 million. But the town has the potential to realize nearly $900,000 in efficiencies and site development cost savings by housing all public safety departments in one building, Taylor said.

The committee believes the Morgan Avenue site offers other benefits as well. The complex could tap municipal water and sewer. It allows the Upper Green to remain the municipal center and the new building could be constructed in a way that is aesthetically compatible with that area.

The next steps include finalizing negotiations with Fire Protection Company #2 to determine whether the town will buy or lease the two parcels. An environmental assessment and review by the Finance and Capital Planning Committees will take place in January, with a request for funding design services anticipated at the Annual Town Meeting next May.

In other business on Tuesday, Town Administrator Tracy Blais announced a new tax rate of $11.32. Last year’s rate was $11.40. Because Feb. 1 falls on a Saturday, tax bills will be due on Feb. 3, she said.

James Stanley has resigned his position as truck driver for the Public Works Department. In addition to filling that post, the DPW is in need of subcontractors for snowplowing. Anyone interested should call 978-465-0862, ext 121.

At a public hearing held at the start of the meeting, the owner of the Plum Island Grille was given permission to install a fenced and gated storage area behind the restaurant for three locked walk-in coolers.

Selectmen appointed Donald Russo as a “limited health agent” to issue burial permits as needed; signed off on all annual liquor license requests, and set May 20 as the date for the Annual Town Meeting and May 13 for the annual town elections.

Selectmen Joe Story and Geoff Walker were not present on Tuesday.