ORLEANS – A proposal to site a new fire station behind the existing facility on Eldredge Park Way would also allow expanded Orleans Elementary School parking, as well as a quicker tie-in to town sewer.
The Orleans School Committee heard a preliminary pitch Jan. 12 from Ron Collins, the town's facilities manager, to site a new fire station on an unused acre of school land. The town is seeking a vote from the committee to allow the site to be included as part of a feasibility study exploring site options for the new station.
The existing fire station opened in 1987. Town meeting authorized funding to explore a renovation to the existing station in October 2020, but it was later determined that the station is too outdated to support a renovation, and that a new station is needed to meet the fire department's future needs.
Collins said a fire station feasibility study committee, candidates for which have been interviewed but not yet appointed, will work with a consultant to help the town identify three site options for a new station, not including a previously-discussed location on Nauset Regional Middle School land. The town hopes to identify two private sites and one municipal site, Collins said.
The middle school site was presented as a concept to the select board in September, but concerns were raised over whether the Nauset Regional School Committee, which has control of the land, would support a fire station on the property.
"It's not to say that site isn't possible, but we also think we can accomplish something here," Collins said of the elementary school land.
A preliminary plan shows the new station situated on currently-wooded land directly behind the existing facility, which would be demolished. The parking lot for the new station would connect to the elementary school by a new driveway that would not only service the station, but would also serve as a second point of exit and entry to the elementary school, which Collins said will help traffic flow on and off the site. The new driveway would include designated lanes for emergency vehicles.
"Traffic backs up in mornings and afternoons with cars, and the concept of picking up children isn't going to go away in the future," he told the school committee.
The plan would also make additional parking available on elementary school property near the tennis courts, while the new station could also be used for overflow school parking. Other features include expanded lighting on the property and sidewalks to improve accessibility from Eldredge Park Way up to the elementary school.
Keeping the new station close to the existing location on Eldredge Park Way will also help the fire department keep its response times low. Fire Chief Geof Deering said his department's goal is to respond in eight minutes or less in 90 percent of all calls.
The project could also tie both the new station and the elementary school into town sewer via a connection along Eldredge Park Way a full 10 years ahead of schedule, Collins said. A gravity main would run around both properties, with connection points on Eldredge Park Way and Clayton Circle and out to Route 6A. This would save the town the $1.5 million cost of building a new pump station to service the properties, as well as annual maintenance costs associated with such a station.
"For the community in general, this is something that should be really thought about carefully to see if we can eliminate the pump station," Collins said.
A second, slightly-modified concept calls for a temporary construction easement that would provide direct access to the new station across the property of an abutter along Eldredge Park Way. This would help avoid interruptions to the school and the fire department while construction is ongoing.
"[The abutter is] aware of it, and of course we'd have to work out the details, but that would be a great place to have that temporary construction access," Collins said.
Construction would not begin until summer 2024 and likely would continue into the following summer, he said.
Orleans Elementary School Principal Elaine Pender spoke in favor of the proposal, especially plans to improve parking and traffic flow on the site. She said she also favors keeping the fire station near the school.
"I'm very encouraged by their proximity," she said.
For school committee member Hank Schumacher, the committee's top priority when considering the proposal is what is in the best interest of the students and the school. He also pushed for solar to be included as part of the project planning, both for the parking lot and additional lighting on the property.
The committee also needs to look toward the future, committee member Sasandra Roche said. While she said she supports the needs of the fire department, she also said with a school building that is more than 70 years old, the time will come when a new school will be needed.
"By losing the land, where do we go from there?" she asked.
The school committee has 23 acres of land to work with on the site. There is also unused land abutting the existing school near Eldredge Park Way, and Collins said more room could be freed up with the removal of the property's septic system.
"I think with the 23 acres, we certainly have enough land," Schumacher said.
Roche asked if there is any potential for the existing station to be salvaged and reused for a different purpose. Collins said it cannot, and that problems with the building would still need to be addressed if it was put to a different use.
Collins said a consultant is expected to be in place to work with the feasibility study committee by mid-February. From there, a firmer timeline for identifying sites will come together, he said.
The committee did not vote on the proposal Jan. 12, but will continue its discussion at its next meeting on Jan. 24.
"We need to have some concept of what we'd want," committee chair Gail Briere said.
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