Bernardston officials shift focus to Northfield Road building for future fire station

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 07-16-2023 2:05 PM

BERNARDSTON — A new proposal for the town’s fire station could provide the department with additional space for a fraction of the cost.

According to Selectboard Chair Stanley Garland, Raymond’s Repair owner Chris Raymond is willing to sell his 24.15-acre property at 167 Northfield Road, as well as its existing facility, to the town for $1.6 million. This is “a more viable option to renovating and expanding the current station at a cost of $4.6 million,” the Fire Station Building Committee reasoned. It would also represent a 4,000-square-foot size increase from the current Fire Station on Church Street.

The town obtained a lot at 12 Church St., which neighbors the current station, in April 2020 with plans to build an addition. The current station is more than 50 years old and isn’t compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, according to Town Coordinator Louis Bordeaux.

In May 2021, voters approved borrowing up to $3 million for the expansion project. Support was secured at the May 10 election, when a 133-68 vote approved a debt exclusion to pay for the bond needed to fund construction. Residents also voted at a Special Town Meeting in September 2021 to raise and appropriate $130,000, paired with $89,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, to pay for the new building’s design, which was completed by Jablonski DeVriese Architects last summer.

However, in April 2022, Fire Chief Peter Shedd revealed that the estimated cost for the expansion project had risen to $4.58 million, nearly doubling the $2.4 million cost initially projected. This brought progress to a halt, Bordeaux said previously.

The most recent major development was enabled at June’s Annual Town Meeting, during which voters opted to raise and appropriate $130,000 — the first of 10 to 20 yearly installments — toward the town’s prospective station expansion in hopes that an advantageous proposal might arise.

Town officials outlined a series of benefits that the new proposed site on Northfield Road would yield, including ample space to fit vehicles and equipment, avoiding costly monthly rental rates, safer off-street parking for firefighters’ vehicles and enough land to host other town departments’ operations. Bordeaux said it would be “pretty much a turnkey operation when it’s time to move in there,” given Raymond would be expected to complete building renovations as part of the purchase-and-sale agreement.

“We feel that with the repairs Mr. Raymond has to do to the building, it would fit the fire station perfectly,” Garland said. “The guys could move in after Mr. Raymond vacates the property.”

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“I just want to add a ‘thank you’ to the guys at the Fire Department that really located this spot and worked with the current owner on what they would need to do over there to make it really feasible for a fire station,” Selectboard member Brian Keir commented.

Garland acknowledged that residents might be wondering what will come of the current Fire Station, as well as the surrounding land on Church Street. He said the town will likely form a committee of residents to work alongside the Planning Board to determine next steps.

“We don’t have those answers right now,” Garland explained. “We’re going to be looking to the people as to what we can do with it.”

At a Special Town Meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 26, at the Bernardston Senior Center, voters will be asked to rescind the decision made at Annual Town Meeting in 2021 to borrow $3 million for the Fire Station expansion project. Voters will also be prompted to approve a new spending plan in its place that involves an initial $300,000 down payment, as well as raising and appropriating $130,000 per year over the next 10 years. The meeting warrant can be viewed at rb.gy/3yar2.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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