Brattleboro closes book on police/fire project

Selectboard signs off on police carport, roof fix, and alarm upgrade, but RTM approval needed

BRATTLEBORO — The $12.8 million police-fire facilities project - a long and sometimes-contentious process - has officially come to a close.

The Selectboard will move forward with a series of final projects and an urgent upgrade for the town's alarm system, which will require Representative Town Meeting approval.

Although both police and fire departments have long since settled into their new facilities, work on the buildings and their infrastructure is not yet complete, but at the Jan. 8 special Selectboard meeting, the Board took some final actions to finish and close out the bond.

A few items remain on the town's punch list: fix the high roof on the police station at 62 Black Mountain Road, build a carport for police vehicles there, and the alarm upgrade.

All were previously recommended by the Police-Fire Facilities Building Committee, and approved by the Selectboard and Representative Town Meeting. But because they bring the total expenditures for the police station project beyond its $4.5 million limit, the Board and RTM members must approve the spending.

The approximate cost is $100,000 for the roof, $150,000 for the carport, and $33,000 for the alarm system.

Money is available from the bond for the expenses, presuming voters authorize.

Elwell noted the town had warning about the roof work needed.

During renovations on the building to ready it for the police department, the low roof was replaced because it was older and needed more attention.

“The high roof is not completely worn out,” said Elwell, “but it's getting there.” That section is reaching the end of its life expectancy and is already beginning to leak.

The leaks have caused no damage yet, said Elwell, who recommended spending the funds to protect taxpayers' investment. The Selectboard unanimously agreed.

Carport can address weather-related issues

The most expensive request - for the carport for police vehicles - would help the Police Department's ability to respond to emergency calls during inclement weather by addressing a number of issues, Elwell explained.

In the current uncovered parking lot, the officers are at a disadvantage during snow and ice storms because they have to clean off their cars before they can drive away.

And it takes “a lot of time” shuffling cars around the lot during storm clean-up, too, said Elwell.

Even during heavy rains, the weather hinders officers' ability to load up and prepare their cruisers at the beginning of a shift.

The town contracted with Austin Design to come up with a plan for the carport, and confirm that it can be done within the $150,000 budget.

The answer to the budget question is yes, architect Bill Austin told the Selectboard during a presentation at the meeting.

Austin showed renderings and specs of the carport, and described its structure. The 22-foot-wide bay will contain 12 parking spaces, each 11 feet wide, in a “simple shed roof with a large overhang,” said Austin.

The structure will be constructed entirely from steel, which Austin described as the most cost-effective material.

The high open side will face south for passive-solar purposes, and the snow will slide down the angled roof to the north, “to be kept out of the way,” he said.

Austin confirmed the structure is designed to support the weight of solar panels, but if the town chooses to install them, workers would have to build braces to angle the panels to the south.

“There's nothing in this plan that would prevent that from happening,” he said.

What's preventing solar panels from happening now, said Elwell, is the budget. With the carport's life expectancy of 65 years, the town could approve photovoltaic solar panels in the future.

The design, said Austin, “is very simple and straightforward.”

“I think it looks really nice,” said Selectboard Chair Kate O'Connor.

Selectboard member Tim Wessel questioned the cost but conceded that he trusted the recommendations of people “who know more than I do.”

The Board unanimously approved the project and its cost.

Fire alarm upgrade needed - now

The alarm system that connects the fire stations and other municipal and community buildings to central dispatch at the police station needs a $33,000 upgrade, and it needs it now.

The digital system will receive notifications when someone sounds the hard-wired alarms throughout the town, and through the wireless radio box system.

Brattleboro Fire Chief Michael Bucossi explained the urgency.

When Central Dispatch moved from the first floor of the municipal center to Black Mountain Road, the fire department moved the alarm system's wired receiver there, too.

It failed.

“We could never get it back up and running,” said Bucossi.

Fire department staff took the receiver from the West Brattleboro station and put that at Central Dispatch, but Bucossi described it as “the lesser of a receiver,” and confirmed it dates from 1982.

“If that fails, we're in deep trouble,” said Bucossi, who noted, “we have nothing that would be receiving those alarms from the community. That's the urgency of replacing this now.”

The Selectboard was convinced and approved the expenditure.

Even after paying for these items, Town Manager Peter B. Elwell expects just over $37,000 left in the bond fund, and the Selectboard took his suggestion and approved transferring that money to the capital fund.

As with the proposed items for the police station, and the alarm system, the ultimate decision rests with RTM members.

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