Residents weigh in on proposed Hopkinton fire station renovations
In a black-and-white photograph, former Hopkinton fire chief Robert Houston grinned out over the small crowd last night at the Pine Street station, which he helped build nearly 40 years ago.
But as residents squeezed into its tiny lobby for a public hearing, they were told the facility no longer meets the department’s needs.
“It’s that point in time that we’re at where we have to invest money back into our infrastructure, and this infrastructure was a building that was brought about by Chief Houston back in 1974,” fire Chief Doug Mumford said. “When I talked with him . . . about two or three years ago, he said this was a 20-year building, and it was meant to build up.”
If approved at town meeting in March, the renovations would add a second floor and a new bay to the building, increasing its square footage from about 5,500 to 16,000.
Last night’s public hearing was a sales pitch for those changes, as town officials, an architect and project engineers joined Mumford in explaining the designs to 25 to 35 people. And while they critiqued the architect’s plan with taxpayers’ eyes, no one denied the current building’s shortcomings.
“They need a better facility,” Hopkinton resident Rob Libby said after the meeting. “They deserve a better facility.”
Libby, whose wife is an EMT, said he fully supports improvements to the fire station. The current building doesn’t have enough storage for equipment, he said, and the ladder truck can barely fit into the garage.
“I’ve stood there and watched that thing back in. You’re talking about this much space between the ladder and the top of the garage,” Libby said, holding up a thumb and a finger just a couple of inches apart.
The new bay, neatly drawn into architect Kelly Davis’s plans, would have a taller garage door that would easily fit the ladder truck. Davis, from Port One Architects in Portsmouth, also displayed floor plans that showed a second-floor training room that would seat up to 50 people and could double as an emergency operations center.
That new training room is high on Mumford’s wish list for the renovations. Even though only a few dozen people attended last night’s meeting, space was tight in the room that serves as a training center now – and a lobby, a dayroom, a kitchen and a meeting space.
Mumford also touted upgrades that would make the station compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and that would create separate bathrooms for men and women. Storage space for equipment would increase dramatically with the addition, which Mumford said would help the station meet the best recommended practices set by state and federal agencies.
“What we have now from 1974 was within the lines (for that time),” he said. “Right now, we’re outside the lines.”
Hopkinton resident Frank Sanford, 43, suggested an option not mentioned in the architect’s plans – a brand-new station in another spot.
“When I first saw this plan, my first question wasn’t regarding cost,” Sanford said. “It was, is this the right location for what we need?”
A town study in 2011 evaluated the fire station and Hopkinton’s options – renovate the existing building, or construct a new one. That committee recommended investing in an entirely new station on Public Works Drive, but there was also uncertainty at the time about whether the Pine Street facility could support a second floor at all.
Once Mumford and the town learned renovations were possible and could cost about $1 million less than a new station, the chief said he became more certain he didn’t want to give up the current location in the middle of Contoocook village.
And during the presentations last night, select board Chairman Jim O’Brien also argued in favor of that central spot.
“From my perspective, I like having the station in downtown Contoocook,” he said. “It’s convenient to downtown, it’s a nice symbol for the center of town.”
The station would be able to remain open in the village center during construction.
After the meeting, Sanford said he just wants to make sure the town considers all its options for the project.
“I’m very supportive of them having the tools they need to do their job,” he said.
Based on last night’s input, design edits will be made and new questions will be looked into. Some residents were concerned about the driveway for the additional bay, which would drop down several feet below the driveway that feeds into the other bays.
That separate driveway would be a concern in the winter when the fire department needs to clear snow away from the garage, some said. But others didn’t want a level driveway if that meant a spike in the cost of the addition.
“I’m not willing to pay a hell of a lot in taxes to make that snow plowing easier,” one man called from the back of the room.
But Davis and the rest of the team will consider that question as they go back to the drawing board to sketch out a more developed design – and its cost.
“It starts with this balancing act so that we can get the most practical station for the best price,” Davis said.
That price will be the most expensive item Hopkinton voters have seen at town meeting in years. Bonnette, Page & Stone, the firm chosen to manage construction, should present an official cost estimate for the design at a select board meeting Dec. 30. But O’Brien has estimated the price tag would be between $2 million and $2.5 million. Most, if not all, of that money will come from bond payments incurred by Hopkinton taxpayers.
“This is obviously a very large investment for the community . . . so we want to make sure we get it right and that we can have a very productive conversation at town meeting,” O’Brien said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @megan_e_doyle.)