I can’t put it any better than one resident expresses it in her e-mail to Better Not Bigger:
“The Fire station to be put on Wilson Street is another sleight of hand deal: next to Senior housing, taking away the Girls softball field and placed in an area where the traffic is impossible in the morning and evening hours. One of the last open spaces left in the center. HELP!”
There are many undesirable aspects of the “ballfield boondoggle” proposal. First and foremost, it proposes a new fire station when we should be talking about repair of the Center station and possibly reopening the South Chelmsford station. The proposal would eliminate valuable space in the center and force relocation of the lost softball fields somewhere else – in other words, two projects instead of just one. There is more traffic on Chelmsford Street (Route 110) than on North Road (Route 4). And it would create sights and sounds annoying to elderly residents at McFarlin Manor.
This is basically the same proposal that was rejected by voters in October of 2009. The essence of it is that we are being asked to pay for grossly inefficient new construction instead of cost-effective repairs, in order to avoid obvious inquiry into why the Eliopoulos clan has been allowed to restrict the repair options through ethics violations and fraud. We are being asked to pay $10 million so that the Eliopoulos clan can make their million. We are being asked to accept the obliteration of the Village Green and add to it the obliteration of the girls’ softball field and parking for all the fields, valuable open space in the center of town where open space is at a premium and irreplaceable.
Why are we being asked again to do this? It was disingenuous the first time in October, 2009 and now it is downright disrespectful. The attitude in town hall is clearly, “we are going to keep throwing this at you until it sticks.” But why should we accept it? The town’s own evaluation studies supported by a $17,000 MMA Consulting Group study and an $85,000 feasibility report, conclude that the current location is the most sensible location and that refurbishment would be less than a tenth the cost of a new station. Refurbishment was under serious discussion until April of 2009, when town manager Paul Cohen announced repair was “off the table” without explanation and without any real reason except that he knew the Eliopoulos family wanted the land behind the station.
What we have heard most recently from Pat Maloney, chair of the Permanent Buildings Committee (formerly the Fire Station Study Committee), is that if we build a new fire station now we will grossly overpay for it. Mr. Maloney has made it clear that the proposal for a $9.1 million construction project will provide a building that is worth about $3.7 million. This is because of state regulations that require extra oversight and bloat costs compared to private construction projects. Until these regulations are improved, it makes no sense to select a build rather than repair option. http://www.lowellsun.com/editorials/ci_17442380
Chelmsford already has more fire trucks in service than the city of Nashua, NH which has 10 more square miles to cover and three times the population of Chelmsford.
Chelmsford has about 50 firefighters, while Nashua has over 150. Yet Chelmsford has as many bays as Nashua. Why do we need more bays? If anything, we might need more firefighters to man the trucks, not more trucks and bays. If we want better coverage, we should be talking about reopening the closed fire station in South Chelmsford, not constructing a replacement for an existing fire station in the center. Refurbish the center station? Fine, that was the original plan before the Eliopoulos clan gobbled up the space behind the station, a small part of which would have been used for expansion if desired.
We don’t need a new fire station for better coverage. If we wanted better coverage we’d reopen the South station or negotiate regional support solutions, neither of which are under discussion by town officials. We don’t need a new fire station because we need new bays or new trucks. We already have so many trucks we pay to store the extra ones we don’t use.
The only way this proposal "makes sense" is if you want new extra bays that aren’t really needed for fire protection, as a platform to pitch a town-run ambulance service. Omitting the $10 million price tag of the current prop 2.5 override, the operating budget would seem to be enhanced by ambulance service revenue while many of the costs would be buried in the fire department budget under “capital improvements” or whatever. When the idea of town-run ambulance service was discussed above-board, it was shot down on the merits. Although this writer doesn’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other about a town-run ambulance service, it's troubling to know that town officials could be trying to ram this foolish proposal through as a stepping stone for such an agenda.
Why did we pay over $100,000 for the Fire Department studies? It obviously wasn’t to educate town officials. I suggest that citizens use them to educate themselves and shoot this proposal down by a large margin.
Yours with best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew