<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=915327909015523&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1" target="_blank"> Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Williams College has pledged to pay $5 million toward the town's proposed $22.5 million fire station


A special town meeting will be held Feb. 28 on whether to move ahead with the proposed $22.5 million Williamstown Fire District headquarters, as depicted in this architectural rendering.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Williams College is ponying up $5 million toward Williamstown’s proposed new fire station.

The donation toward the long-anticipated project was revealed in an email to the college community following a weekend board of trustees meeting.

“The Board agreed to contribute a total of $5M toward construction of Williamstown’s new fire station at a rate of $1M per year over the next five years,” Williams College President Maud Mandel wrote in an email. “Our campus community relies heavily on local first responders, including student and staff volunteers, and it is important that Williams help the district provide them with a modern and safe facility.”

The $5 million will come out of the college's approximately $4.2 billion endowment, according to Williams spokesperson Jim Reische. 

In addition, the cost of the project was cut by another $2.5 million on Wednesday by the Williamstown Fire District Prudential Committee, dropping the price tag to $22.5 million.

“I’m on cloud nine. I’m immensely grateful for Williams College’s generous contribution to the building of a new fire station in town,” Fire District Building Committee Chair Elaine Neely told the Eagle on Thursday. “We asked for $5 million, but it was unexpected. We didn’t think we’d get that much.”

Town voters will decide on whether to go forward with the project at a 7 p.m. special town meeting Feb. 28 at Williamstown Elementary School. It must receive at least a two-thirds majority.

So do the recent price reductions make the new fire station a more appealing proposal?

“Anything that reduces costs in town makes an item appealing,” Neely said. “There’s a lot of financial demands throughout the town, and of course the fire district’s separate from the town, but we as taxpayers are the only people footing the bill. It falls on our shoulders, whether it’s a town or a fire district.”

“It’s absolutely essential to help the welfare of our volunteers. It’s essential for the safety of the town, really,” Neely said about the facility. “I feel it’s a realization by the administration and the board of trustees at Williams of how important a new fire building is to the safety of everyone in town.”

Williamstown's climate goals are guiding the design of a proposed fire station

District officials are seeking other forms of funding such as grants or gifts. During its meeting Monday, the Williamstown Select Board will consider whether to allocate some of its federal ARPA funds to the project.

“Williams has been a close partner of the Williamstown Fire District for many years,” Prudential Committee Chair Dave Moresi said in a district news release. “The college has long let its staff members who serve as volunteer firefighters leave their jobs to respond to fire calls. This significantly shortens our response times to call scenes.”

“For more than a hundred years, the college has voluntarily contributed annually to the district’s operating budget, and it now caps our long relationship with this remarkable gift,” Moresi continued. “Adding even more meaning to their announcement is that it comes while the college, because of the current economic climate, is having to tighten its belt.”

The existing 5,000-square-foot station was built in 1950. The three-bay station isn’t big enough to house the department’s four fire trucks and, at the same time, safely accommodate firefighters gearing up for a call.

A 2019 report by Municipal Resources Inc. evaluated buildings in town and the department’s facilities, apparatus and operations. It found the town to be at “moderate to high level of risk” of firefighter or civilian injury due to issues related to the inadequate and outdated fire station.

The facility has no room for expansion, is not energy-efficient and lacks space for larger firetrucks and storage. Heating, electrical and plumbing systems are outdated and in violation of OSHA and building codes.

A new station would provide a sanitary space to get geared up and a separate space to shed the gear and clean it, along with a shower to sanitize the firefighters before they don street clothes and head home.

There are roughly 25 volunteer firefighters in the Williamstown Fire Department. They responded to 241 calls in 2021, including 10 mutual aid calls.

Sten Spinella can be reached at sspinella@berkshireeagle.com or 860-853-0085.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.