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Lanesborough Select Board consider what's next after voters reject public safety complex

A brand new ambulance sits in the bay

Currently, the Lanesborough Fire Department and ambulance squad share a building. “The building was not designed to house a paid town staff. There’s not space enough for them,” said Kristen Tool, referring to the ambulance crew.

LANESBOROUGH — After local voters rejected a $5.9 million plan to build a new public safety complex at the driving range of the former Skyline Country Club on Thursday, what’s next?

Lanesborough voters reject public safety complex at special town meeting

Select Board members, as well as the chair of the Police Building Committee, said they were disappointed that voters rejected the plan at a special town meeting. Just 139 of the 353 voters in attendance voted in favor of the plan; 214 voted against.

The Police Building Committee considered multiple sites and spent an estimated $60,000 to $70,000 on design and site tests for this and other sites. Voters were previously cool to a $4 million proposal to build a police station at Laston Field.

In January the Select Board opted not to vote on a proposal from a partner in the Berkshire Mall offering space for a police station there.

Letter: Lanesborough already has a substantive public safety complex proposal

Select Board members agreed that the deciding factor in Thursday’s vote was money.

“I think it needs to be in the mid-$3 million range for the townspeople to do it,” Chair John Goerlach told The Eagle. “Everybody’s in a safe spot right now that we can take our time, go back at it again and try and move the project along so we have our own space and not just a rental.”

Letter: Lanesborough Police need a new station, so let's vote to give it to them

Since August, local police have been working out of rented space at 545 South Main St. About $65,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money is paying for the rental for two years, through August 2024. After that, the town will need to pay the owner for the approximately $1,500 in monthly rent for the use of the building — or find other space for local police.

Police were formerly housed at 8 Prospect St., a building with multiple problems including rats and black mold.

Ambulance personnel are working out of the local fire station alongside the Lanesborough Fire Department. The now-paid ambulance staff, designed to ramp up to a 24-hour operation, would have also been housed at the public safety complex. The plan was for the volunteer fire department to retain its separate quarters.

The chair of the Police Building Committee that developed the plan says she has serious concerns about the working conditions for the town’s newly created paid ambulance service.

“The building was not designed to house a paid town staff. There’s not space enough for them,” said Kristen Tool. “The building’s not owned by the town. It’s owned by the fire association.”

Lanesborough is weighing a new $5.9 million police facility. The owners of the Berkshire Mall think they can offer a better deal

Tool pointed out another problem with the current arrangement for the ambulance service.

“The other issue with the fire station is that because it can’t be retrofitted to have a sprinkler system, there cannot be a third shift for [an] ambulance crew, there can’t be an overnight shift,” Tool said. “Because the sprinkler system is required if the EMTs are sleeping in the building. So that means that our ambulance director is essentially working 24/7 365. Because if a call comes in … outside of the two paid shifts, she has to respond to it, or … people will die.”

During the special town meeting, Select Board member Michael Murphy, spoke of problems in the current situation for both ambulance personnel and police.

“I spoke with the chief the other day,” Murphy said, referring to the police department. “He had to have a meeting with four families to mediate a dispute. He had to do it in the lobby of the current location.”

“Our ambulance staff do not deserve to sleep on couches, to shower in bathrooms that are the same temperature as outside,” he said.

On Friday Murphy said it may be time for Lanesborough to consider ways to cut taxes, perhaps by splitting its tax rate to shift the tax burden to businesses. Right now personal property and commercial property are both taxed at the same rate.

In addition, he said the town may need to consider ways to hold down costs for education both at the regional and local level.

Timothy Sorrell, a member of the Select Board and former police chief, praised the work of the Police Building Committee.

“My fear is that with other communities in Berkshire County now, stepping up and wanting to do new fire stations, public safety, we might fall to the back of the line,” Sorrell said. “We might miss this opportunity.”

Jane Kaufman is Community Voices Editor at The Berkshire Eagle. She can be reached at jkaufman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6125.

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