ORLEANS -- What began as a plan to renovate the town’s fire station on Eldredge Park Way has become one to build a brand new facility.
There is $5 million in capital improvement funding earmarked for Fiscal Year 2023 to make necessary upgrades to the existing building. But an Aug. 11 update to the select board from town officials made clear that a bigger project is needed to adequately bring the aging station into the 21st century.
The board voted unanimously 4-0 to revise the scope of a previously-approved feasibility study to look at options for the construction of a new fire station. The revision also allows the town to set aside more money for the project, a figure select board members estimated to be closer to $15 million.
“It could be a placeholder number to warm people up to the fact that this is not a Band-Aid job. You need a new facility,” Town Administrator John Kelly told the board.
An article will be prepared for the fall special town meeting asking voters to approve the change of scope.
The path toward a new station began with a plan to upgrade the heating, ventilation and air condition (HVAC) system in the station. In February 2020, the Galante Architecture Studio (TGAS) of Cambridge presented the results of a facilities analysis to the select board and suggested that a 6,000-square-foot addition could be built to renovate the station.
Voters at the annual town meeting in October 2020 authorized $100,000 to fund a feasibility study of the renovation. But each of the six firms that provided estimates on the project envisioned a project much greater in scope.
“There was a general consensus that this is a much bigger project than a simple addition,” said Ron Collins, the town’s facilities manager.
The current station, which dates back to 1987, is 11,000 square feet. By comparison, Collins said modern stations on the Outer Cape are between 21,000 and 22,000 square feet in size.
Fire Chief Geoff Deering told the select board that the current station no longer meets the design or safety standards required of a modern fire station. A new station is needed in order to allow the fire department to expand and properly train staff and ensure a safe working environment.
“The overwhelming amount of deficiencies will not allow us to adapt to future growth and demands for service,” he said.
Ted Galante, whose firm was hired again to oversee the station feasibility study, expanded upon those deficiencies, which he said include the lack of functional space in the building and various aspects of the station that are not up to code.
In particular, Galante said the current station as designed leaves fire staff at a greater risk of cancer.
“The facility was designed at a time when fire services were thought of a little bit differently,” Galante said. “I don’t think it was known at the time that a fire station itself can be an incubator for carcinogen transfer.”
Issues with the existing site include a lack of handicap accessibility at the station’s front entrance, as well as grading and topography issues that lead to problems with snow and ice. Galante also recommended that a single roadway leading to and from the station be divided into separate ways for both emergency and civilian vehicles.
Problems with the station itself centered largely on the amount and use of space.
Galante described the lower portion of the station a “hot zone” for carcinogenic transfer, and said the station as a whole lacks adequate storage space. He recommended that separate laundry facilities be used for civilian clothing and “turnout” gear that firefighters wear out on calls, and that turnout gear be stored in its own space separate from the apparatus bays.
The existing station also has an inadequate fitness area, Galante said.
“Firefighters are occupational athletes,” he told the select board. “Having them work out in an area where carcinogens are laden on the walls is not fantastic in any possible way.”
The station’s kitchen and restrooms are not handicap accessible, and the small size of the kitchen makes it “ripe for a collision,” Galante said. There also are drainage issues and an outdated vehicle extraction system, which filters exhaust and other fumes out of the station’s apparatus bays.
Galante said the station’s bunk rooms are of “less quality than most dorm rooms you see today,” while the station’s common area does not offer the opportunity for firefighters on duty to relax in peace.
“Firefighters go through a lot of stressful events,” he said. “Psychologically, they need downtime. A plan like this does not allow for that.”
The recommendations were well received by members of the select board, who spoke in support of the need for a new station.
“We needed to hear this,” select board member Kevin Galligan said. “The public needed to hear this.”
Andrea Reed. She described the conditions in the station as “appalling” when given a tour of the facility by Deering last year.
Galante recommended keeping the existing station in use as a temporary facility if and when the time comes to build a new station.
If the scope of the study is approved in the fall, the town would go back to town meeting in the spring seeking funding for project design and an owner’s project manager.
Collins estimated a final design would take between nine months and a year to prepare, with 18 months of construction to follow. But the town also needs to identify a site for a new building in order to proceed as planned.
“You can’t do a final design without a site,” Kelly said.
Work to locate and secure a site could be done alongside the request for design funding in the spring, Kelly said. He said any site the town moves forward with would need to keep a central location in town.
“We’re very limited in terms of what’s available, but we do have some ideas,” he said.
Email Ryan Bray at firstname.lastname@example.org