By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY — On any given day, the smell of mold at the 82-year-old Salisbury police station is unmistakable, as is its need for handicapped accessibility, better insulation, an efficient heating and air conditioning system and more space.
And although the police station is the town building most obviously in need of serious help, Salisbury’s Fire Department and Public Works buildings are also short on space and in need of modernization in ways that improve their functionality and working environments, and which could make them more cost-efficient to run.
With so much to analyze and so much at stake financially, town officials are meeting to tackle the problems Salisbury’s facilities are facing now and in light of the town’s future growth.
Along with a committee made up of town officials and local citizens, the hope is that with the help of a consultant, Salisbury will have its buildings and needs assessed, its options laid out and prioritized and a long-term financing plan to consider by spring, according to Town Manager Neil Harrington.
“The goal is that in the next six months we’ll have an analysis of all the issues with the consultant,” Harrington said. “We hope to have a game plan that includes all the possibilities, the priorities, cost and timing. Common sense would tell you this is going to be expensive and this is a long-range plan and not something we can do all at once.”
The consultant hired will be a needs assessment and space specialist, Harrington said, who will work with the ad hoc Facilities Committee Harrington has organized, which consists of himself and fire Chief Rick Souliotis, DPW director Don Levesque, police Chief Tom Fowler, Planning Department director Lisa Pearson, and Selectman Henry Richenburg.
Two residents are also on the committee: Sue Bartlett, a member of the Warrant Advisory Committee who is familiar with fire department functions, and Ron Guilmette, another member of the Warrant Advisory Committee and a retired Massachusetts state trooper.
A few years ago, Town Meeting approved a $25,000 appropriation to hire a professional to conduct a facilities study, money Harrington still has. He’s advertising for the position, hoping to have someone chosen soon.
All options will be open, Harrington said, including remodeling, expanding and even rebuilding and relocating buildings, but decisions will be determined after all the facts are in and possibilities weighed, he said.
Although department heads in general usually want more space and better digs, according to Souliotis, the consensus in town is that the police station is the facility with the biggest problems.
“We’re definitely not as bad off as the police station,” Souliotis said. “I think everyone on the committee is in agreement that the police station needs to be handled first.”
According to police Sgt. Robert Roy, from what he has been able to research, after a few years of construction, Salisbury’s police station was completed in 1930, with money appropriated by Town Meeting in 1916. When it opened, it was both a police and fire station, and it was still doing some fire department duty up to the early 1990s.
The tricky issue with the police station is the land underneath it, Harrington said. Still digging out the historical facts, it appears the land under the building was donated to the town by the Salisbury Beach Associates for the specific purpose of housing safety-related town services, he said. The belief is that the town definitely owns the building and has the land at least as long as it’s used for safety purposes.
The building is far from being in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, has very limited facilities for female staff, has just about everyone but the police chief sharing office space, has limited storage and common space and is expensive to heat, cool and its air quality is less than perfect due to the moldy smell.
Even the five jail cells could use work, although Roy said they’re “luxury suites” compared to their condition in 1989, when they were last renovated.
With all the issues a building that old has, Harrington said, the consultant’s job will be to research all the problems, access current and extrapolate future needs, then present every option, including gutting and remodeling and razing and rebuilding.
The location at the beach is important during tourist season, Harrington said, especially because it’s where the crowds congregate both during the day at the beach and in the evening at the clubs. From the point of centralization, the station’s Railroad Avenue location at Salisbury Beach isn’t a large issue one way or the other, Harrington said. Although it is police headquarters and its call center, officers patrol town roads constantly and can be instantly dispatched from where ever they are to wherever they need to go via radio, he said.
A 20-year veteran of the Salisbury Police Department, Roy puts it this way: “Yes, we have a lot of calls from the beach, but we have a lot of calls from all over town.”
Built in 1979 on land purchased by the town on Route 1, the Salisbury fire station was expanded to include the chief’s office and Emergency Operations Center in 1987, with a grant from the previous owners of the nuclear power plant in Seabrook.
“We’re out of office and storage space and we have to store some of our vehicles outside,” Souliotis said. “One of the questions for us is, can we put an addition on? We have a truss roof, and we’d have to remove the whole roof to do any kind of expansion. And there’s no space around us to expand into.”
The town land it’s on is shared with the DPW, its salt/sand barn, the Hilton Senior Center and a number of town athletic fields that are heavily used. There’s pretty much nowhere left to go, he said.
The fire station faces other problems. For instance, it has no facilities for women. It dodged a bullet for years thanks to the understanding nature of its only female firefighter, who recently retired, Souliotis said, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in the future, as is total compliance with the ADA.
One of the things in the station’s favor, Souliotis said, is where it’s located on Route 1, just beyond Salisbury Square and in good proximity to the thickly settled beach and commercially developed Route 110.
“They really did some good research before they decided to build this here,” Souliotis said. “We can reach Commonwealth Avenue, the farthest end of the beach, and Blacksnake Road, over on the Seabrook boarder, in the same amount of time.”
Souliotis has a space assessment survey going out to his staff, he said, the result of which will be shared with the consultant when he or she comes on board.
PUBLIC WORKS BUILDING
A major problem facing Public Works is that it’s a department divided among different missions and different locations. It’s the town highway department, with its headquarters on Route 1, beside the fire station, complete with salt/sand barn and garages. But Levesque also oversees the town’s water/sewer enterprise systems, Harrington said.
Although Pennichuck administrates the water system, Levesque and his staff handle the sewer, with its treatment facility located on a large piece of town owned land off Route 110. With cramped office and utility quarters at the Route 1 facility, one thought that’s been tossed around is to consolidate Public Works at a new building on land by the sewer treatment facility and vacate its current site.
But that’s just one of the scenarios the consultant can investigate as he or she looks at Salisbury’s emergency, utility and road maintenance services, Harrington said, along with the idea of starting a small motor pool in-house to care for all town vehicles from all departments in one centralized location.