Designers unveil new plans for Brisol firehouse on West Street

BRISTOL — A potential new firehouse in Bristol is taking shape as an architectural firm last week presented a plan for a two-story, 11,456-square-foot building that in an ideal sequence of events could be built by next spring.
Bristol residents and firefighters packed the municipal office conference room Wednesday evening to hear Cushman Design Group of Stowe present its design, which was created using input from a volunteer committee of firefighters and community members.
Bristol Fire Department Chief Brett LaRose said he was “extremely pleased” with the presentation, and believes with minor tweaks it will be able to be put before voters.
“Based on all the work that’s been done, this is going to be a building that will meet the needs of not only the fire department now, but the fire department of the future,” he said.
The firehouse would be built on a 2.7-acre plot of land south of West Street, across from the Bristol Recreation Club. The town would first have to purchase the land from local businessman Kevin Harper, who himself bought the plot just this year. No purchase price for the town has been set.
The first floor of the design includes an apparatus bay that can fit six vehicles, as well as a special display area to showcase the department’s antique equipment. The ground floor would also include a gear room, conference room, two offices, two bathrooms, a laundry room and a co-ed locker room with showers.
The second floor would include enough room for a 64-seat dining room, kitchen, pantry, day room, mechanical room and exercise room. Aesthetically, the building would include a bell tower and arches over the bay doors and main lobby.
The parking area would include a lot adjacent to the building reserved for firefighters. Both ends of the apparatus bay would have overhead doors, allowing trucks to enter and exit without backing up.
The plot of land also includes room for a future police station to be built. The Bristol Police Department currently leases its space from the Bristol Works on Munsill Avenue, but the town is exploring whether building a permanent facility would be cheaper for taxpayers in the long run.
Architect Andrew Volansky said the firm’s goal in designing the firehouse was to emphasize the most visible areas of the building, such as the side facing the street and the main entrances, while using simple designs for less visible areas, to save money.
The firm did not present a cost estimate at the meeting. At a meeting in March, the fire facility committee had discussed $210 per square foot as a ballpark estimate. Using that figure, the cost of this design would be around $2.41 million.
Harper on Wednesday said the architects would continue to tweak the design according to feedback from firefighters and the community until the town believes it has created a design that voters will approve.
“We’re not going to stop until we’re done, until we’re awfully darn sure we’ve set out what we’re going to do,” Harper said.
Since forming in December, the firehouse committee has met seven times, including three times in the final week in March. Cushman Design Group will present an updated plan at the committee’s next meeting, the date of which is yet to be set.
Firefighter Terry Farr on Wednesday commended the group for its hard work on the plan.
“I think you guys have done a great job so far,” he said. “The committee has done a year and a half’s work in a few months to get us on track.”
Firefighters are eager to find a new home, as their current North Street facility, built in 1897, has fallen into disrepair. The first floor cannot support the weight of modern firetrucks, and the second floor cannot bear the weight of more than a few men, rendering the firehouse practically useless. Since last year, the department has stored its trucks at various locations throughout Bristol and rented spaces to hold meetings.
“Our current conditions are not ideal; they’re affecting our day-to-day operations,” LaRose said.
Harper told the Independent that if the town purchases the land and voters approve a design within the next few months, construction could begin on a new firehouse this fall, and be completed in the spring of 2016.
LaRose said he believes the fire department, fire facility committee and selectboard have worked hard to develop a new firehouse plan that is in the best interest of taxpayers and also includes input from the public every step of the way.
“I think we as a town and as a fire department have done everything we can do to educate the public,” LaRose said. “If there has ever been a time over the last 12 years of this going on to build this, the time is now.”

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