Orleans Committees Hit Pause On Fire Station Talks

By: Ryan Bray

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

The Orleans School Committee and the town's fire rescue feasibility study task force are hitting pause on talks of siting a new fire station on elementary school land. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – Talks on siting a new fire station on Orleans Elementary School land came to an impasse last week, leaving plans for the project up in the air.

The town's fire rescue station feasibility study committee voted July 11 to endorse a plan to demolish the existing fire station on Eldredge Park Way and build a new station nearby on an acre of elementary school land. But the committee quickly rescinded its vote two days later during a joint meeting with the Orleans School Committee.

The school committee voted 3-1-1 against the concept during the July 13 meeting, with committee chair Gail Briere abstaining and member Ian Mack recusing himself from the vote. School officials said they didn't feel as though they were being treated like an equal partner in the project.

Tom Finan, who chairs the feasibility study committee, said at the outset of the July 13 meeting that school committee members were worried that their concerns were not adequately addressed, and that there wasn't enough of a focus on how the project will benefit the elementary school.

"I would say from my personal standpoint, disappointing but understandable," he said of the school committee's vote.

The school committee initially voiced support for the idea of using school land to site a new station when the concept was first presented to them in January. Briere said while initial conversations between the two groups were productive, things took a turn as discussions on the project ramped up over the last month.

The feasibility committee had multiple hearings in June, she said, including a meeting in which it asked its consultant, Kaestle Boos Associates, to come up with options for building a new station while also keeping the existing station intact for future use. The select board had urged the feasibility committee to explore keeping the current station as part of the plan.

But Briere said school committee members began to feel "rushed," and that concerns raised about student drop-off areas were not reflected in the plans shown by Kaestle Boos on July 11. The committee also requested that a study be conducted analyzing traffic flow at the elementary school, she said.

"After much reflection, this may be a time to step back, do more due diligence to the questions and concerns expressed by the school committee, and involve them more as partners to see if a solution can truly result in the win-win that seemed promising in the beginning of this process," she said.

Mack asked the feasibility committee if members had received and looked at the school committee's "consideration list," which was prepared by the elementary school's principal, Elaine Pender, as part of its planning for the site. Finan said his committee had not, and that it was "remiss" in overlooking it.

The single-building concept initially favored by the feasibility study committee shows a new station directly behind the existing one. A rendering of the project showed separate station exits and entrances for the public and fire personnel, as well as a third entrance and exit for the elementary school. Buses would be allowed to utilize the fire station driveway twice a day to improve traffic flow on the property at the start and end of school days. The plan also includes a separate drop off/pick-up area for parents and a total of 203 parking spaces, 157 for the elementary school and 46 for the fire station.

The feasibility study committee favored the single-building concept over two designs showing both the current and future stations on the property. Those designs were voted down due to a lack of available space on the site to accommodate both buildings.
But the single-building approach was criticized at both the July 11 and 13 meetings. Orleans resident David Abel said July 11 that the town failed to do a thorough search to find a suitable property for a new station before landing on the elementary school property.

"I think this whole thing should be stopped, and the town should go back and do the work the town should have done in the first place," he said.

Josh Stewart of the Nauset Regional School Committee, who formerly served on the Orleans School Committee, agreed. He said July 13 that the proposed single-building model will introduce more problems than it solves in terms of traffic flow and student safety. He also criticized the town for going public with plans to build on Nauset school property, initially on middle school land, before first coming to the regional school committee to discuss it.

Town Administrator John Kelly said the town put out a request for proposals seeking land for a new station. The town also sent direct mailings to 12 property owners asking them specifically if they would consider making their land available for a new station. Those requests resulted in zero responses, he said.

Meanwhile, town-owned parcels at 139 Main St., across from town hall, and at the former DPW highway building on Bay Ridge Road were determined to not be feasible for a new station by Kaestle Boos. The elimination of those properties narrowed the feasibility study committee's scope down to looking at the elementary school land, Finan said.

"I know that there were efforts to look at other places, but it seems to me that more effort needs to be given to see what the other options are before moving ahead with the assumption that something can be worked out with the school if we keep pushing at it," school committee member Maxine Minkoff said.

Without the elementary school site, the feasibility study committee's work would "grind to a halt," Finan said. But neither he nor the school committee discounted the opportunity for more discussion.

"Our vote today doesn't say that we aren't interested in developing this further, but we need a willing and enthusiastic partner," he said.

"When I look to the future of this, I hope that we can work together, and not be carried along," said school committee member Sasandra Richardson Roche.

Select board member Michael Herman alerted the board to the situation regarding the elementary school site at the board's meeting on July 13. Finan was due to provide an update to the board at its meeting Wednesday night.

"I think they're going to need a little bit of help from us," Herman said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com