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IPSWICH – Voters at the town assembly approved a proposal to build a new combined fire and police station at the corner of Linebrook and Pine Swamp roads.
A two-thirds majority was required in the vote on Saturday morning. By a show of hands, an overwhelming majority voted in favor of the proposal. Moderator Tom Murphy said 497 voters have registered for the meeting.
However, the decision still needs to be ratified in a ballot on Tuesday, October 26, before officials can proceed with the project.
The two-step process is required by state law as the city will be borrowing $ 27.5 million for the building. If approved, the new facility will replace the Fire Hall, which was built in 1907 for horse-drawn carriages, and the Elm Street Police Station, which was built around 1920 as an annex to the Town Hall.
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At the city meeting on Saturday morning, officials struggled to say that the $ 27.5 million was a maximum amount. The money will be used to pay for the design and construction as well as to equip the new building.
“We will not come back to the city meeting in any way to ask for additional funds,” said Jamie Fay, finance committee (FinCom) representative to the public safety facilities committee.
“I promise you that we will not be returning to this body for a dime more,” agreed FinCom chairman Michael Dougherty.
Fay said the requested $ 27.5 million was a cap that included a contingency and allowances for projected construction cost inflation. âWe feel very, very confident in that number,â he said.
That will add about 51 cents to the current tax rate of $ 13.22, according to FinCom’s city meeting booklet. The tax impact will be around $ 300 per year on an average home valued at just over $ 586,200.
Public Safety Facilities Committee Chairman Bob Weatherall began with an anecdote. With reference to Lot of Salem film crew who just finished their work in Ipswich, he said scouts were looking for places that had a 1970s look.
âThey went to Elm Street [the police station], took a look at what we had, and they said, ‘Perfect!’ Weatherall said with a laugh.
He said plans were made in 1954 to expand the fire station but were never implemented. âHere we are, 67 years later. Now is the time to do it, âWeatherall said.
Committee member Rob Donahue said the committee has met more than 75 times over the past few years and reviewed several sites in the city. He said the first proposal was for a 45,000 square foot building with an estimated cost of $ 35 million.
That was reduced by about a third, to 29,600 square feet, and a 20% reduction in the cost of the project, he added.
As well as having modern facilities, this will save the city money by not having to purchase “expensive custom fire apparatus” to fit into the 1907 building, Donahue said. .
Fay said further operational reductions can be expected from facilities sharing and argued that now is the right time to borrow money due to historically low interest rates.
Recognize that the tax impact is “substantial”, he added: “It is a large number, but it is a reasonable number”.
School committee chairman Chub Whitten called the current conditions “deplorable” and urged voters to approve the proposal.
Board chair Tammy Jones, who is also a member of the public safety committee, noted that another group has now been set up to look into the future of the old police and fire stations.
âI can tell you from experience that it can be hellishâ working in old buildings, said Robert Hegarty, a resident of the Malden Fire Department who also works in a former fire station. âI can tell you stories of things that live in this station,â he added.
He argued that the old buildings will have to be replaced anyway. âIt will be built one day. Mortgage rates are low. Let’s build it now, âhe said.
Resident Sarah Simon said a single modern building would cost less to run than separate older buildings.
Resident Diane Halverson asked about construction costs, noting that inflation is running at around five percent. She asked if the $ 27.5 million was correct.
âThey were pretty clear on this,â Moderator Murphy replied.
Later in the meeting, however, resident Ed Marsh noted that citizens gathered in town voted in October 2020 to purchase the land for $ 630,000, which would bring the cost above $ 27.5 million. dollars.
Resident and student Julian Colville said he returned from the West Coast to vote against the measure. He thinks school buildings should be given priority.
After the meeting, Weatherall said he would have liked Colville to call him, as the state will determine when Ipswich returns to the pipeline for school funding. The FinCom Passbook estimates that funds for a feasibility study may be requested in FY 2024, which begins July 1, 2023, and construction funds may be requested in FY 28.
However, FinCom member Rob White noted that the dates are still estimates and are beyond the city’s control, as the Massachusetts School Building Authority will decide. “It’s many, many years away,” he said.
Speaking against the proposal, resident Eric Josephson said he was “not in love with the location and not in love with the price”.
âI could overcome either of them, but not both,â he said.
Noting that schools are once again the subject of discussion, Josephson argued that the Winthrop School site is the best location for a new public safety facility.
Resident Phil Goguen said he was not against the facility but objected to the way it was funded with borrowed money. âWe are linked out of sight,â he said.
Resident Timothy Reilly, who owned and operated a crime and death scene clean-up business for 20 years, called the town’s current facilities “dangerous and embarrassing.”
“It’s time to stop turning a blind eye to a glaring problem,” said Resident and Fire Lieutenant Kendall Buhl. Failure to approve the project would send the wrong message to first responders, he argued. Now was the time for “more blind eyes, more deaf ears and more cold shoulders,” he said.
Resident Kathleen Gallanar urged voters to “please take care of the people who take care of us” in approving the new facility.
Public Safety Committee member Harvey Schwartz said the city could be held liable for discrimination lawsuits because current buildings lack facilities for women and the doors are not wide enough for a stretcher in the police station. “It’s a trial waiting to hit us,” he said.
After about an hour of debate, Murphy called for a show of hands. With only a few holding up their voter cards, he declared the vote carried by the required two-thirds majority.