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Selectboard sees detailed plans for new police, fire facilities

BRATTLEBORO—In anticipation of a Feb. 11 Development Review Board (DRB) meeting, the project manager and architect behind the Police-Fire Facilities Upgrade project provided the Selectboard with an project update on Feb. 4.

The upgrade project will make needed improvements to the town’s two fire stations and its police station. Many of the improvements fall into the area of life-safety issues such as air quality and structural repair.

Paying for the more than $14 million project, however, has met with controversy as construction will raise property taxes in a town already feeling the pinch.

According to Project Manager Steve Horton, designs for the town’s two fire stations have progressed quickly, with plans within proximity of the $11.3 million construction budget for the three stations.

Construction will begin in May pending approval from the DRB, added Horton, of Steve Horton Construction Consulting Services in Walpole, N.H.

Plans for the Central Fire Station and West Brattleboro Station have progressed quickly as well. Complications with repairing the portions of the police station located in the Municipal Center’s basement have slowed the initial plans for that station.

All the stations must meet high standards for seismic events and other disasters because they provide essential services, said Raymond A. Giolitto, architect with Northeast Collaborative Architects, with offices in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

These standards presented a problem for the early police station plans, which called for rehabilitating the basement and putting in an addition, said Giolitto. Digging out the Municipal Center’s basement to bring it up to seismic code proved too complicated and expensive.

Instead, Giolitto said the design team identified parts of the police department that are vital in an emergency, and located them in the addition. These areas included booking, computer data banks, and dispatch.

Functions of the police department that did not serve a vital role were located inside the Municipal Center.

Other changes in the design called for switching the locations of portions of the police department, on the first floor, with planning services, now on the second floor.

The plans also call for reworking the Municipal Center’s rear entrance to screen members of the public from police activities. The plans call for a common lobby area and public restroom but keep the booking area and cells in a secure wing.

Currently, a public hallway bisects the police department on the first floor, and the general public often encounters folks who have dealings with the police department, which presents privacy and security concerns, said Giolitto.

An added challenge for the design team: maintaining the historical integrity of the Municipal Center. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and its historic details must be preserved.

“What you’re asking me to do is design a secure facility against a historic structure,” Giolitto explains.

To preserve the Municipal Center’s historic details, the architects have built in a separation between the building’s existing wall and the new addition.

Although invisible to the passive visitor, the separation will allow the addition to be removed if necessary, and without damaging the historic building, said Giolitto.

The police department designs are about 30 percent complete, agreed Giolitto and Horton.

Still to be resolved: parking. The new extension that will house the police department will take about 34 parking spots.

The town will reclaim about 20 spaces it had previously allowed workers at the nearby state building to use. The parking solution and traffic flow through the Municipal Center’s back parking lot are not ideal.

At this stage, the design team is suggesting making the parking lot one-way to funnel traffic from Grove Street to Main Street.

“We’ll finesse it,” said Giolitto. “We’ll try to make it work. We will not present you a project that’s over budget.”

The Police-Fire Facilities Building Oversight Committee will hold a public presentation and take public feedback on Thursday, Feb. 27, at 5:30 p.m. in the Selectboard Room, on the second floor of the Municipal Center.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #241 (Wednesday, February 12, 2014). This story appeared on page A2.

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