~ UPDATE posted Jan. 27, 2022, at 5:15 pm
The Select Board is returning to town meeting in two months with a new fire station site and a new price tag.
The town manager’s office announced late Thursday morning that the board has voted to purchase 139 The Great Road for $1.55 million. “Analyses by expert consultants have determined that the site would be able to accommodate a fire station that fits the programmatic needs of the department,” it read.
“A new station will serve the Fire Department and the town by continuing our exemplary delivery of emergency services, meet response time requirements, and provide proper storage areas and training space,” said Margot Fleischman, Select Board chair, in the announcement.
“I am thrilled to reach this point in the process. I am very appreciative of the work the Select Board and Town Manager have done to get here,” said Fire Chief David Grunes in an email. “The pandemic has magnified the issues with our station. The firefighters have worked very hard to keep the community safe and this is one way to help protect them and give them the tools to continue doing their job.”
In March 2020, a proposal was unveiled to take the building at 175 The Great Road – TD Bank and various offices – by eminent domain for $7.6 million. But before that plan for acquiring a fire station site could move forward, the pandemic interrupted government operations. Annual town meeting took place in the summer, with the warrant stripped of everything but essentials.
There were concerns as well about resistance from neighbors and other residents, and questions about the proper use of eminent domain. Approval would require at least a two-thirds majority.
So the Covid-19 onslaught will have saved the town millions of dollars if the new proposal is approved, including the costs of relocating businesses impacted by eminent domain.
There will be warrant articles not only to purchase the property – at a price that’s less than many single-family houses — but also to fund design services to begin planning the new structure. “Moving forward with acquisition of 139 The Great Road would lead to a time savings of 1-2 years in avoiding a lengthy eminent domain process,” today’s announcement said.
The current fire station at 55 The Great Road has many deficiencies. According to today’s announcement, “Shortcomings include, but are not limited to, code compliance issues, inadequate and outdated living quarters, and shortages of proper training and storage space.” Fire Chief David Grunes said at a recent meeting that the drawbacks there may deter some candidates in a finite market for paramedics.
A site search has been a priority for several years, within an envelope between Willson Park and the junction of Loomis Street and the Great Road, to ensure reasonable response time to all Bedford extremities. Sites on Loomis Street and Railroad Avenue were also briefly considered.
The property at 139 The Great Road, now owned by Utah State University, was on an original list of several possibilities.
Grunes said after a detailed discussion with an architect who specializes in public safety construction, he feels comfortable with “the grade, and specific site and neighborhood characteristics. We were provided recent examples of stations that were designed to blend into the fabric of the neighborhood and how they overcame grade at another similar site.
The fire chief also noted that “Green International conducted a traffic study and evaluated the intersection of Great Road and Bacon, site lines from 139 Great Road, stopping distances on The Great Road at the site. There were no issues identified.”
Discussion of alternatives to eminent domain have been ongoing for several months, as evidenced by a common entry at the close of almost every Select Board agenda: “Executive session for the purpose of discussing strategy related to the purchase, exchange, taking, lease or value of real property, or litigation.”
Board member William Moonan said Thursday that once negotiations began with the owner of 139 The Great Road, he recused himself because he shares a common property line. So the final vote to acquire was 4-0. Moonan said at one time, his current lot and 139 The Great Road were a single property.
Moonan will be a private citizen when Annual Town Meeting addresses the article in late March; he is not a candidate for re-election. However, he will remain on the Historic District Commission, which will have jurisdiction over the exterior of the new facility.
Town officials have been preparing a marketing campaign in anticipation of the approval. According to the announcement, “To learn more about this proposal, including a frequently asked questions document, an interactive map of other sites that were considered, and a video tour of the current fire station, please go to www.bedfordma.gov/new-fire-station.”
Also, “A forum open to the general public will be held on Thursday, February 17 at 7:00 p.m.” This will be on the Zoom platform.
According to the announcement, the property at 139 The Great Road – once a single-family residence – “was being prepared for sale in 2022.”
The building is listed in the assessors’ database with a value of about $1,375,000. It is exempt from real estate taxes.
Stewart Radiance Laboratory moved into the property in the 1980s. It has no website. A 2009 Wikipedia entry says the facility is part of Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory. No one answered phone calls to the Bedford facility Thursday.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763