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New Bow town committee begins meetings to review public safety building proposals

Fulltime Bow firefighter, Keith Lambert, directs an engine back in to the bay at the Bow Fire Station after responding to a call on Friday, August 9, 2013. The New Hampshire State Fire Marshall cited the Bow Community Building and attached fire station for code violations in July, calling for the town to bring the building to compliance by 2016. The town voted against renovations during the last town hall.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Fulltime Bow firefighter, Keith Lambert, directs an engine back in to the bay at the Bow Fire Station after responding to a call on Friday, August 9, 2013. The New Hampshire State Fire Marshall cited the Bow Community Building and attached fire station for code violations in July, calling for the town to bring the building to compliance by 2016. The town voted against renovations during the last town hall. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Bow voters have shot down plans to construct a new public safety building for two years in the running, and now a newly formed town committee is looking for a solution that residents will accept.

On Tuesday night, the 13-person Public Safety Building Review Committee convened for the first time to go over a timeline and a task: come up with a proposal to meet the town’s public safety needs and present it to the board of selectmen by Oct. 30. The hope is to bring a final plan to the public at the next town meeting.

Timing is key because the state fire marshal has mandated that the town’s outdated fire station be brought up to code by September 2016. “He is looking for progress from the town,” said Town Manager Dave Stack. “Time is of the essence . . . and if nothing is approved at this meeting, then we’re under the wire.”

In addition to the fire station, the committee’s plan will address updates to dispatch and the police station, which currently has no holding cells and minimal separation between detainees and the public, Stack said.

The committee’s members, interviewed and appointed by the board of selectmen, are mostly new to the process. The group of 10 members and three alternates includes a range of residents, some of whom have lived in town since the 1960s – including Dave Cook and Ray Johnson – and others who have moved in within the past five years – such as Jack Driscoll and Chris Johnson.

A few members, including the chairman of the committee and Selectman Eric Anderson, Selectwoman Colleen Hunter and Ken Demain have worked on the previous public safety building committees.

All are united by the goal of coming up with a solution to a problem they said they agree exists.

“It’s a set of fresh eyes to look at what has been done in the past and review concerns that have been raised,” said Selectman Harry Judd. This is the third committee since 2006 to examine the public safety facility issue, Stack said.

No member of the committee officially represents the Concerned Taxpayers of Bow, said the group’s chairman, Chuck Douglas. Douglas didn’t interview for the town committee because he didn’t think it would be appropriate. “I shouldn’t be on it,” he said. “It’s just not a good citizen committee if you have people with a very firmly held view.”

The concerned taxpayers group, formed earlier this year, opposed the proposal at town meeting in March to build a $6.8 million public safety building. Instead, the members petitioned to put an option on the town warrant to spend $250,000 updating the current fire station/community building. Voters defeated both measures at the two-part town meeting this spring.

Although the taxpayers group has no designee on the committee, it will be monitoring what the town is working on and may organize its own committee to discuss alternatives and look into project prices in other locations, Douglas said.

“We will watch over the summer and may not need to do it, the town committee may do everything we would have done,” he said. “If the building committee explores all these same options, we’re not going to duplicate the same effort.”

At the town committee’s meeting Tuesday, the group hashed out some major goals and themes, like balancing wants and needs, communicating with the public and considering an appropriate price point.

For the next meetings, members outlined plans to visit public safety buildings in other towns and review plans that previous committees came up with in past years.

Several committee members said communication and keeping the public abreast of their work is key to the process. “We need to get it out ahead of time so people can absorb it,” Chris Johnson said.

Others focused on the price tag. “If we keep coming back with these high figures, they are going to keep shooting it down and we’re going to end up with no fire station at all,” Ray Johnson said.

The committee will meet in public sessions throughout the summer, starting with tours of Bow’s existing safety facilities.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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