Bow police, fire stations host tours for voters to highlight unmet needs of facilities
Bow police chief Erin Commerford gives a tour of the Bow police department to Bow residents Steve and Laura Moltisanti and their children Stephen, 3, and Natalee, 7, during an open house at the facility on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. Commerford highlighted unmet needs at the facility, such as the lack of wheelchair access to the second floor and the absence of holding cells â people brought to the department are instead handcuffed to a bench in the booking area.
(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
A pair of handcuffs hangs from a bench in the holding and booking area of the Bow police department, which currently lacks holding cells. Police chief Erin Commerford gave tours of the Bow police department during an open house at the facility on Tuesday, September 17, 2013, highlighting unmet needs at the facility.
(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
The bright-orange signs posted on the walls of the Bow fire station last night were hard to miss. But the words printed in bold black letters on the paper were even more glaring than its neon color.
“Non-compliant flammables storage.”
“Lack of electrical outlets and non-compliant use of extension cords.”
“Exits are NON-COMPLIANT.”
For the handful of Bow residents who participated in an open house at the town’s police and fire facilities last night, those signs indicated all the ways the building no longer meets the department’s needs or complies with state fire codes. Town officials opened the Robinson Road police station and the Knox Road facilities for fire and emergency management to visitors in hopes they would see the buildings’ flaws – and remember them at the next town meeting.
In March, Bow voters narrowly rejected a plan to build a $7.7 million public safety facility that would house all of the town’s fire, police and emergency management operations. Though the majority of voters were in favor of the facility, the 189-164 tally fell just short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.
Town Manager David Stack has returned to the drawing board with the rest of the Public Safety Facility Committee that designed the defeated plan. He said the committee is working on a new, less expensive plan to bring to voters in 2014.
“What we’re trying to do again is get a good, practical building without skimping too much. . . . But we are going to go back to the March town meeting with a proposal,” Stack said.
Marge Welch, 77, was among the voters who opposed the $7.7 million facility. She was also among the small group of Bow residents who wandered through police and fire facilities yesterday, peering into the booking room at the police station and the often moldy basement in the fire station.
“It’s food for thought on what is needed and what isn’t needed at this point,” Welch said. “I’m going to be doing a lot of thinking about this.”
Welch isn’t sold on a multi-million dollar construction project just yet. She also didn’t know about some of the problems with the current buildings – such as asbestos in the walls of the fire department.
“This has been eye-opening,” Welch said.
A May inspection of the fire building was also eye-opening for investigators from the state fire marshal’s office. That visit produced a long list of fire and life safety code violations, including complaints about the building’s original wiring from 1956, its storage for combustible materials and its overnight sleeping quarters for firefighters. The department is required to update those sleeping quarters by November, but the rest of the facility needs to be brought to code by 2016. If voters do not pass a proposal for a new public safety facility in March, the town will still need to sink money into renovating the building that now houses the fire department and a community gymnasium.
Bow fire Chief Dana Abbott said the current building, even with renovations, is not big enough for a department that manages 1,200 calls each year and operates with 38 on-call firefighters. There is no space for confidential meetings or even adequate walking room around the trucks crammed into the garage.
“We’ve long outgrown use of this building,” Abbott said.
State officials are also not breathing down Bow police Chief Erin Commerford’s neck over the condition of her police station on Robinson Road, but she, too, pointed out a laundry list of faults as she led visitors around the building yesterday.
“It is really something you have to see,” she said. “There are no holding cells, period.”
Commerford showed a thin stream of visitors to the booking room, where officers handcuff anyone they bring in to a bench if those individuals need to be detained. She led them down the hallway to the first-floor bathroom that is used by both department employees and people who have been arrested. She also explained the benefits of a secure sally port and separate holding cells for juveniles and adults.
“There is a need, and it has to be addressed,” Commerford said.
Steve and Laura Moltisanti led their two children through the police department behind Commerford with both interest and apprehension. Steve Moltisanti has followed the plans for the proposed public safety facility, and he listened carefully to the police chief. If the original plan passed voters, the bond would have raised local tax rates by 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2014. In the second year, that figure would have jumped to 60 cents before declining in subsequent years.
“Something needs to be done, but . . . ,” he trailed off, looking at his wife.
“They definitely need a new facility,” Laura Moltisanti said. “It’s just really expensive.”
Janet Shaw also followed both Abbott and Commerford through their buildings during the open house. Unlike others, she didn’t need to be convinced of the need for a new building.
“I’ve lived here 50 years now this next month,” Shaw said. “I’ve seen how this (fire station) just does not serve the purpose anymore.”
She has seen it. But she doesn’t think enough Bow residents have also seen it, and she said she was disappointed with the turnout for last night’s open house. The sign-in lists at both stations were short.
“It doesn’t look like we’ll have many people coming,” she said, looking at the near-empty parking lot of the fire station.
Public forums on the last proposal were also not well attended, Shaw said.
“The thing I’m hoping is that we can come up with something at this town meeting, because I don’t think we can wait, wait, wait,” Shaw said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)