Committee to reveal Bristol firehouse plan next Wednesday evening

BRISTOL — A committee of volunteers charged with developing a design for a new firehouse in Bristol will present the plan they chose at a meeting next Wednesday, April 8, at 7 p.m. in Holley Hall.
If the public is receptive of the plan, the selectboard hopes to schedule a bond vote for the project as early as June, with an eye on breaking ground in September.
The new firehouse would replace the current facility on North Street, which was completed in 1897 and suffers from a number of structural deficiencies.
It would be constructed on a 2.7-acre plot on the south side of West Street, across from the Bristol Recreation Club property. The town has discussed leasing the land from Stoney Hill Properties LLC, with the option to purchase the land outright at a later date, but has not yet reached an agreement with the company.
From an initial selection of three plans, the design committee last month chose one plan to present to the community April 8. That plan contains two iterations: a one-story facility that totals 10,834 square feet, and a two-story structure that is 11,402 square feet. Both include three bays for trucks, plus an additional bay in which to display antique equipment.
The committee on Wednesday will also present artistic renderings of what the firehouse may look like. The group has not affixed a price tag to the two versions of the plan, but at its last meeting discussed $210 per square foot as a ballpark estimate. Using that figure, the cost of the one-story firehouse would be $2.28 million.
The town is also considering the possibility of, in the future, building a permanent police station on the same plot of land to centralize all of Bristol’s emergency services. Presently, Bristol pays $30,000 annually to lease space in the Bristol Works to house its police force.
Since forming in December, the firehouse design committee has met six times to come up with a design to pitch to the community, including three times in the final week of March.
“They’ve been working so hard, and its been wonderful to see the committee come together to work toward a common goal,” said Town Administrator Therese Kirby.
The 9-person committee is made up of residents and members of the fire department, and includes: Bill Elwell, Terry Farr, Diane Cushman, Dan Heath, Elizabeth Herrmann, Ed Hanson, Brett LaRose, Matt Lathrop and Brian Fox.
The option to build a firehouse on the south side of West Street only became a possibility this past January, when local businessman Kevin Harper pitched the idea to the selectboard.
Harper recently purchased two adjacent parcels on West Street, and proposed a land swap with Bristol for town-owned plots behind those parcels, which do not presently have road access.
Harper’s vision is to build an access road from West Street, past a new firehouse to the town-owned plots behind it, for future development uses that could include an industrial park, similar to the Bristol Works.
The selectboard has yet to approve the land swap, but has agreed to pay $20,000 to Harper and Stoney Hill Properties to pay for design proposals for the new facility.
The land swap plan has another advantage for the town. Initially, the selectboard planned to ask voters to approve two bonds — one for funds to purchase the land on which a new firehouse would sit, and a second to pay for the actual structure. A failure of one of those bonds would send the project back to the drawing board.
By leasing the land from Harper, the town would need voters to pass just one bond, to fund construction of a new facility. That would speed up the process of building a new firehouse by several months.
Fire Chief Brett LaRose told the selectboard in December that the fire department is in dire need of a new facility. The current firehouse cannot support the weight of fire trucks, forcing the department to park them at various locations around town, which LaRose said delays response times. The second floor of the building also can’t support the weight of more than a few men; the department must rent other large spaces to hold meetings.
Before Harper pitched his plan, the town had been negotiating with the private Bristol Recreation Club to build a firehouse on part of its land, on the north side of West Street, directly across from Harper’s land. The rec club withdrew from negotiations after Harper floated his idea.
The Bristol Fire Department has tried for many years to gain voter approval for a new fire facility. In 2013, voters by a wide margin rejected a plan to renovate the existing firehouse on North Street. That was the last time voters had a chance to weigh in on a firehouse proposal.

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