Negotiations stall on finding new home for Williamstown police, fire departments
WILLIAMSTOWN -- It may be back to the drawing board for the Public Safety Building Study Committee.
With negotiations stuck over testing and mapping of the Lehovec property on Main Street, the committee is recommending a request for proposals be issued for alternate sites on which to build a joint public safety building or a new police station.
Committee members agreed during a meeting Tuesday night that enough time -- three months -- has been wasted in the process, and that they should move forward in seeking other possible sites.
"I’m disappointed we’re at this point after all this work," said Jane Patton, committee chairwoman and member of the select board. "It’s just killing me that we lost all this time."
Attorneys for the Lehovec estate are requiring that the town pay a $15,000 fee to the estate before it will allow soil testing and wetlands mapping of the site. But the testing and mapping are required before the town can move forward with purchasing the property, so town officials are unwilling to pay for testing a property that may not meet state requirements.
The estate put forward a counter offer -- that the town could conduct wetlands mapping, but soil testing would only be permitted if the town committed to buying the property. The town isn’t willing to commit to sign a purchase agreement until it knows that the soil meets state requirements.
Williamstown Police Sgt. Scott McGowan, also a member of the Public Safety Building Study Committee and president of the Williamstown Police Association, said that the police station is a liability to town taxpayers. Every time an unruly prisoner has to be escorted down the narrow staircase to the detention cells in the basement, there is the potential for injury to both police officers and prisoners.
"Every minute we waste puts taxpayers at risk of having to spend more money, and we have wasted three months on this," he said.
The committee has been trying to find a property in a suitable location that is big enough to build a facility that will house both the police department and the fire department, along with all their vehicles and equipment.
After examining 13 different sites, the Lehovec property at 578-582 Main St. was determined to be the only one of sufficient size in a study conducted by Reinhardt Associates.
"I think we’ve gone above and beyond to explore that possibility (the Lehovec site), but now we’re just spinning our wheels," McGowan said.
Andy Hogeland, committee member and member of the select board, suggested that they seek approval from the select board to issue an RFP to Williamstown property owners in order to identify alternate sites for either a joint facility or a new police station. Not all properties would be big enough to fit a joint facility. The fire district is its own taxing entity, so it would have to seek property on its own for a new fire station.
Committee members agreed unanimously.
The firehouse is too small for the firetrucks in use now, and firefighters don’t have enough room to maneuver when preparing to respond to a call or to hold meetings and training exercises.
"It’s in the town’s best interest to build a joint facility as economically and efficiently as we can," Patton said in an interview with the Eagle prior to Tuesday’s meeting. "And it’s not prudent to commit to any property purchase without making those tests."
To reach Scott Stafford:
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On Twitter: @BESStafford.