Bristol voters to cast ballots on firehouse, July 7

BRISTOL — After nine months of evaluating sites, discussing plans and holding informational meetings, the town of Bristol has reached the time for a decision on a new firehouse.
Architects have designed an 11,000-square-foot facility to be built by local businessman Kevin Harper on a site off West Street. Upon completion, the town hopes to purchase the building and a 9.03-acre parcel of land through a $3.19 million bond.
On Tuesday, Bristol voters will decide if that price is right to replace the current firehouse at 32 North St., a facility that town and Bristol Fire Department officials say is simply no longer adequate.
Bill Elwell, co-chair of Bristol’s Fire Facility Building Committee, has emphasized the new building will solve the problems presented by the existing firehouse.
In November, a study detailed that facility’s shortcomings. The report noted that the wooden structure was built to house hand-drawn hose carts from the 19th century, not 40,000-pound trucks used by the department today. Following the report, the department stopped using the building to hold staff meetings and house its equipment. 
Since then, Bristol’s 35 volunteer firefighters have based training and deployment at several locations around the town, holding meetings at the American Legion clubhouse. In the past fiscal year, the town of Bristol spent $3,400 to house equipment elsewhere. In the 2015 fiscal year, the town budgeted $7,400 to rent space at sites on North Street and Fitch Avenue.
Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose said coordinating responses from the two different locations costs the department two to three minutes in response time. LaRose said because a fire doubles in size every 60 seconds, that’s two to three minutes too long.
“In the emergency services, those minutes are absolutely critical,” he said.
Firefighters who work fulltime as plumbers and electricians have donated their time to keeping the North Street building in the best possible working order. And while no sewage has surfaced near the 128-year-old building, no one is certain where the sewage is going.
The building is not handicap-accessible, and it lacks smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and equipment for cleaning the equipment firefighters wear on duty. Without specialized washing machines, the department has budgeted $6,000 to send gear to New York City to be cleaned of carcinogens and other harmful chemicals.
“There’s nothing safe about the property on North Street that taxpayers pay for,” LaRose said at an information session last week. “Safety is the number one thing we look at in everything we do. We have to take care of our people and to do that we need a safe building to operate out of.”
On the ballot on Tuesday to replace 32 North St. is a “drive-through fire station” that maximizes efficiency. It will house the department’s six pieces of equipment and include space for administrative offices, locker rooms and training, and a meeting room and kitchen.
The equipment areas will also include air scrubbers for exhaust from the trucks, and will offer washing machines for turnout gear.
While the firehouse provides for the needs of the department, Elwell said the building also was designed to keep construction and operating costs in check.  
“There’s not a lot of wasted space in rooms and corridors,” he said. “A lot of work has gone into making sure everything is as compact and cost-efficient as can be.” 
Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose said the bond would not include furnishings for the new firehouse, including gear lockers, kitchen appliances, personnel lockers and benches. While the department would take what they could from the existing fire station, fundraising would have to be done for any new equipment.
On May 17, Brandon general contractor Naylor & Breen Builders presented a $2,840,067 estimate for construction costs of the building. Town officials hired a consultant to perform an independent evaluation of the estimate prepared by Naylor & Breen, finding a difference of just 1.8 percent.
That initial price tag increased a week later when the cost of the land was announced. On May 26, Bristol selectboard member Brian Fox presented the committee with a preliminary plan to purchase 9.03 acres for $350,000. About 3 acres would be used for the site and the firehouse, which will be built by Stony Hill Development.
An additional 2 acres has enough space for a septic system and could later be sold as a commercial lot to offset the bond for the property and the building.
In addition to the site of the building, the purchase of the lot would allow access to 30 additional acres located behind the 9.03-acre lot, land that the town hopes to develop into a campus-style business park. 
“By buying this land from Stony Hill Development and building the firehouse, it’s a bonus because it gives us access to our piece of land that we can do something with,” Fox said.
Should the bond be approved, taxpayers would see an increase in property taxes. The increases detailed are the largest, early in the bond; the payments, and the increases, will shrink over the bond’s 30-year life.
•  A home valued at $100,000 would see an increase of $79.30 per year.
•  A home valued at $150,000 would see an increase of $118.95 per year.
•  A home valued at $200,000 would see an increase of $158.60 per year.
•  A home valued at $250,000 would see an increase of $188.25 per year.
Speaking at an informational meeting last week, LaRose said a new firehouse’s impact on property taxes would be less than contracting fire protection services with other towns.
Committee members say they’ve worked hard to get the word out about the need for a new facility and the upcoming bond vote through informational meetings, the town’s website and social media.   
“We’ve done our best to engage the entire Bristol community on this,” Bill Elwell said. “This is a building the town can be proud of, that welcomes people to the town and that’s safe and productive for our fire department.”
In May, the firehouse committee also recommended selling the existing firehouse without restrictions on its future use. That recommendation will go before the voters as an exit poll on Tuesday. If the bond is approved, the question of what to do with 32 North St. will become an article on Bristol’s Town Meeting Day ballot.
Polls open at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, July 7 at Holley Hall. 

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