Bow voters reject public safety building plan
Bow residents vote to end the debate over a warrant article concerning the construction of a new public safety building and proceed to voting at a packed high school auditorium Thursday night, March 13, 2014, during their annual town meeting. Residents were faced with the decision whether or not to approve a nearly $7 million project.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Sara Swenson, supervisor of the checklist, waits at a ballot box where residents submitted their votes whether or not to approve a nearly $7 million proposal to build a new public safety building. Bow residents packed the high school auditorium Thursday night, March 13, 2014, to attend their annual town meeting.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Bow residents packed the high school auditorium Thursday night, March 13, 2014, to attend their annual town meeting. Residents were faced with the decision whether or not to approve a nearly $7 million proposal to build a new public safety building.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Bow residents overwhelmingly rejected plans to construct a $6.8 million public safety building, one year after a more expensive plan was narrowly defeated.
The condition of the station will have to wait until the meeting resumes March 24.
After an hour of voting, the tally came to 425-257. It needed a two-thirds majority to pass. A separate article, which would have approved a $200,000 geothermal heating and cooling system for the building, was also rejected, 410-271. The plan would have replaced the town’s outdated fire station with a new building housing the fire, police and emergency management departments across the street.
During an hour of debate, every seat in the school auditorium was filled, and some voters had to stand or sit in the aisles. They voiced concerns about both the cost and tax impact of the building.
“I can’t afford it. I can see the future, and it’s expensive,” said resident Van Mosher.
Jim Hoffman, also a resident, recommended voting no as well. He proposed deferring consideration of the public safety building until the town can bring in new businesses and offset the recent $50 million devaluation of the PSNH power plant.
“The public safety building is a good consolidation plan,” said Hoffman, who spoke in favor of the plan last year. “The timing is not right.”
“We need to be wise and spend the money now,” Garth Orsmond said. If the building is put off, he said, bonding and construction costs will only get more expensive, and the town will throw money away on an unsafe building. “Trying to patch up a dead car like this one, we are going to waste money,” he said.
Following an inspection last spring, the state fire marshal mandated the fire station be brought up to code by September 2016. Last fall, firefighters moved their overnight quarters to the rescue building, located behind the fire station, to comply with the fire marshal’s order that the sleeping space be brought up to code by Nov. 1, 2013.
Officials said the building has inadequate electrical wiring, no sprinkler system and minimal storage. The department needs to buy custom vehicles to fit in the garage bay’s, said H.L. Turner’s Bill Hickey, who presented the engineering firm’s design for the proposed building.
“You’re going to need to replace the building no matter what you do,” said resident Dennis Mosbeck during discussion. “Spend $500,000 on the existing one, (and) you are still not going to have anything but a dead loss on your hands at the end of the day.”
At last year’s meeting, a similar proposal that cost $7.7 million fell 48 votes short of the required two-thirds majority. Town officials cut that cost down by $1 million for this year’s plan.
The meeting adjourned at 11 p.m., and residents will return to the school auditorium March 24 to resume the meeting, vote on the remaining warrant articles and consider two other plans to fix the building.
First will be a proposal to spend $225,000 to fix the building’s electrical wiring and the kitchen’s venting system. That article was scheduled to be heard last because it was put on the warrant by petition. However, at the start of last night’s meeting, voters overwhelmingly passed a motion put forward by Bryan Gould to hear that plan immediately after voting on the $6.8 million proposal.
Another option is to renovate both the fire and police stations where they stand for a cost of $4.6 million and $1.7 million, respectively.
Voters approved the $9.87 million operating budget with minimal discussion. An amendment to add $40,000 to the parks and recreation budget to fix up several playing fields on Albin Road was rejected.
Residents also approved spending $350,000 to pave Putney Road and several other roads without discussion, but spent 20 minutes discussing constructing a roundabout to replace the intersection of Knox, White Rock Hill and Logging Hill roads before rejecting it. Voters expressed concern that trucks and fire engines wouldn’t be able to fit, questioned the functionality and asked why a traffic light wouldn’t be cheaper.
“In general, I have not found successful roundabouts in the local area,” said voter Faye Johnson. “The one on Auburn Street is horrendous.”
“Roundabouts are safer,” Susan Fuller said. “As a mother of future drivers, I would really like to see that done.”
Turnout this year was higher than usual, several residents said. Thirty minutes past the 7 p.m. start time of the meeting, people were still streaming into the auditorium. Voters filled almost every seat in the room, lined each wall, and sat on the floor and stairs in the aisle, and more than 25 people congregated in an open space in front of the door.
“Since 2001, it’s the most crowded I have ever seen it,” said Lt. Scott Hayes of the Bow Police Department.
Residents will meet for the second portion of the meeting March 24 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium to consider the remaining warrant articles.
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
UPDATE: This story was updated on March 14, 2014, to correct the spelling of Garth Orsmond.