Nauset Officials Weigh In On Fire Station Discussion

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Police, Fire And Harbormaster News , Orleans news , Nauset Regional School District , Nauset Regional Middle School

Members of the Nauset Regional School Committee were non-committal Nov. 18 to a concept plan to site a new fire station on Nauset Middle School property in Orleans. The towns existing fire station is pictured in the background. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – For members of the Nauset Regional School Committee, any discussion about using district land for a new fire station in Orleans is premature.

That was the message Nov. 18 from committee members, who for the first time publicly addressed discussion that has been ongoing among town officials about possibly building the new station on three acres of land currently occupied by Nauset Regional Middle School.

The school committee voted at its last meeting to move forward with preparing a master plan for future use of district land. Committee member Judith Schumacher advocated for letting that process unfold before considering any plans for a fire station.

"Once we see that master plan, we can see how it fits in with whatever the town proposes," she said.

The town doesn't have a proposal for using the middle school property, but rather a concept that would include some reconfiguration of the existing space.

In September, Ron Collins, the town's facilities manager, came to the select board with the idea of relocating the Finch Skate Park, which fronts Eldredge Park Way, 150 feet away to help make room for a new two-story station. A baseball diamond on the property also would be rotated 90 degrees.

The town's existing fire station was built in 1987 but no longer meets the needs of a modern fire facility. The town initially conducted a feasibility study looking into what it would take to renovate the existing station, but the study concluded with a recommendation by the town's consultant, Galante Architecture Studio, that a new station is needed instead.

The concept was presented to the select board before the regional school committee was consulted, and committee members took issue Nov. 18 with the way in which the discussion unfolded.

"I don't know why they don't want to talk to us," committee member Josh Stewart said. He said his top priority in any decision on how to use the middle school land is what is ultimately good for the school district, its students and families.

Committee member Griffin Ryder agreed. "We want to be a partner with the town of Orleans, but we need to make sure we have something that will work for everyone."

Committee chairman Chris Easley also expressed concern with how the conversation about using the middle school property came about without any consultation with his committee. He also expressed uncertainty that the district has land that it can part with, noting the district needs "more rather than less."

"It's a little frustrating that we're not in control of our own agenda," he said.

The middle school site isn't the only location the town is looking at for the new station. In October, voters approved $100,000 at the special town meeting to conduct an expanded feasibility study looking at other possible sites around town for a new facility.

Schumacher encouraged Orleans officials to look "broadly" at all possible locations beyond the middle school.

"I want to be cautious, because if we give up any land here, we will never get it back," she said.

Meanwhile, the select board on Nov. 17 voted 5-0 to adopt a charge for a new fire station building committee. The committee will work with a consultant hired through the recently passed town meeting article to explore options for siting a new station apart from the middle school land.

Town Administrator John Kelly said members are expected to be interviewed and appointed to the committee next month. The committee will identify potential sites by March before turning its attention toward building design, he said.

Some discussion was given to whether the new body should be called a feasibility or building committee. Mark Mathison of the select board raised a question about talking about a building committee so soon in the process when a site for a station has not been selected.

"I just get real nervous from day one about talking about turning it into a building committee," he said. "I don't think that's appropriate."

Kelly said the goal is for the same committee to see the project through from concept to completion, and that the committee's charge will be updated as the project progresses. If and when funds are approved through town meeting for project design, the committee would operate as a building committee, he said.

Select board members also acknowledged the need to keep the lines of communication open with school officials in Nauset. That includes getting residents in the other district towns of Eastham, Wellfleet and Brewster on board with Orleans' efforts.

"We've got to keep talking to each other," said Andrea Reed of the select board.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com