Bristol OKs $3.19 million firehouse bond

BRISTOL — The price is right. That was the message Bristol voters sent Tuesday by approving a $3.19 million bond to build a new firehouse.
The 415-140 decision came at the end of a two-year process, during which Bristol’s Fire Facility Building Committee evaluated some 31 possible sites, discussed plans and held informational meetings.
In what has been described a “turn-key operation,” local businessman Kevin Harper will build an 11,000-square-foot facility on a site on the south side of West Street near the entrance to the recreation fields. When completed, the town will purchase the building and a 9.03-acre parcel of land, financed through the 30-year bond.
A timeline for construction put groundbreaking for the new firehouse in September or October, with the department moving into the space in late spring of 2016.
Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose said he was “pleasantly surprised” by Tuesday’s results.
“I had a good feeling that it may pass, but the fact that it passed by as much as it did was definitely a surprise,” he said. “It means the community is behind this effort and I certainly appreciate that.” 
Committee members say the move is timely and important as the 128-year-old firehouse off North Street is in disrepair, and has forced the 35-member volunteer fire department to hold trainings and meetings at other locations. Also, the department currently rents space to store equipment in two separate sites. The new fire station will house the department’s six pieces of equipment and include space for administrative offices, locker and training rooms, and a meeting room and kitchen.
The bond does not include funds for furnishings the new firehouse, including gear lockers, kitchen appliances, personnel lockers and benches. While the department will take what they can from the existing fire station, fundraising will have to be done for any new equipment.
“The message was clear that this wasn’t about a want, it was about a need and our current situation,” LaRose said. “I think the public heard and responded to that.”
Next week the Bristol selectboard will meet with the building’s architects and the property owners to discuss a timeline for obtaining permits and starting construction. The Bristol selectboard plans to sign the agreement at its July 20 meeting and hire a clerk of the works to oversee the town’s interests in the project. A smaller site committee will remain involved in construction decisions as the project moves forward.
“Certainly there are other decisions to be made,” said Bill Elwell, who was co-chair of the fire Facility Building Committee and expects to be on the building committee. “With any building project, there are other details that have to be worked out with how everything fits together and the mechanics work inside the building.”
The Fire Facility Building Committee has estimated that approval of the bond means that property taxes will rise the most in the first few years of payments on the 30-year bond; the payments, and the impact on property taxes, will shrink over the bond’s 30-year life. The estimate was that:
•  A home valued at $100,000 will see an increase of $79.30 per year.
•  A home valued at $200,000 will see an increase of $158.60 per year.
Speaking at an informational meeting before the vote, LaRose said a new firehouse’s impact on property taxes would be less than contracting fire protection services with other towns.
The last time the town approved a large bond for an infrastructure project was in 2010, when a $1 million bond was floated to pay for sewer improvements.
In May, the firehouse committee recommended selling the existing firehouse without restrictions on its future use. With the bond’s approval, Bristol voters will decide the fate of the old firehouse located at 32 North St. on Town Meeting Day next March.
“We looked at a lot of the town’s history as we were putting this design together and this certainly is a historic event,” Elwell said. “This is one of those moments in a hundred years that others will look back on.”

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