Commission Consensus: Firehouse Doors Should Face the Street

October 6, 2023
The Bedford Historic District Commission continues to review and discuss design and layout options and considerations of a new firestation at 139 The Great Road. Wednesday there was consensus that apparatus bays should face the street. Courtesy photos of Kaestle Boos Associates architectural renderings.

The consensus of the Bedford Historic District Commission is that the proposed fire station at 139 The Great Road should be designed with apparatus bays facing the street.

All five full members plus the alternate agreed at a public hearing on Wednesday that the design would be preferable over administrative offices visible from The Great Road, with apparatus exiting from the rear of the new building.

The commission reached that conclusion in response to a request from a member of the Fire Station Building Committee. Angelo Colasante asked, “Can we narrow it down and move forward?”

The Historic District Commission (HDC) has the final determination on changes to building and grounds exteriors in the Bedford Center Historic District, which envelops 139 The Great Road. The Building Committee and the project architect from Kaestle Boos Associates have been updating the group frequently on design plans.

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“We want to be sure that if we are going to allow this, that it is worth the tradeoff for what it does to the Historic District, that it really serves the town well,” said member Salvatore Canciello. “I think the design team has done a great job, but what you are doing is a lot of manipulation to make the function work” because of the site’s width and depth. 

The frontage is 124.5 feet, more than 40 feet fewer than the current station at 55 The Great Road.

 “There’s a lot of compromise – at what point is what’s being made to work not in the best interests of the town?” Canciello said. 

Member Karl Winkler, who has been the member most emphatic about prioritizing public safety needs, said, “This is a direction I can see fitting within the community.”

Even Alan Long, who has expressed the most discomfort with the location, agreed with the
option to locate the apparatus doors facing the street.

“Think about it from our point of view. We have a beautiful stone wall, a nice grassy knoll. We are being asked to trade off a lot of stuff that we appreciate. We all want some reassurance that this is going to fit into a historic district,” Long said.

Interim Fire Chief Paul Sheehan on Wednesday repeated his advocacy of apparatus bays directly accessing The Great Road, not just to shorten response time but also as “a real community fire station. People gather at the fire station, they walk by, the guys seem to know half the people in town.” 

He also said, “My command staff and I remain committed to this project. We are convinced that stakeholders who have concerns will have their questions addressed. We remain convinced that 139 is a feasible site with adequate lot size and interior.” 

At a Building Committee meeting last month, the president of the firefighters’ union expressed reservations about some aspects of the location. “Some of the firefighters have concerns and as a team we are trying to address them,” Sheehan acknowledged. 

Priorities that emerged during Wednesday’s discussion were the amount of pavement planned, the style and placement of roof lines, the size of a planned rear outbuilding for storage and truck maintenance, and the appearance of a training tower, which member Jennifer McClain said looks like a lighthouse.

Drawings displayed by architect Sean Schmigle indicated the location of retaining walls and the elevation changes needed to accommodate vehicular access. Answering a question from member Karen Kalil-Brown, the architect said, “All projects that we deal with work with existing grades as much as possible. There are challenges, but the options we show here are the beginnings of solving these problems.”

There was a lot of discussion about pavement. Schmigle said 22 staff spaces are required to accommodate full shifts as they’re coming and going. There are also spaces for five department administrators. 

“Parking is driven by operations,” the architect said. “There’s always that additional influx of vehicles at shift change.”

“We’re a bit freaked out that this site was chosen in the first place because it is going to completely change the look of the property. On top of that, if you have to pave most of it, that’s freaking us out even more,” Long said.

Kalil-Brown, who also accepted scrapping the rear-bays option, was especially concerned that the fire station “will support the future of what we see being built today.” 

Sheehan said the design is intended to account for future needs. 

Schmigle said the design analysis examined the number and location of calls, population, and future development. He conceded, “You can plan only so far.”

The option that the architect and committee will now focus on is a design that will feature a separate ambulance entrance on the west side of the building. Other areas that came up during Wednesday’s discussion:

  • The architect mentioned that the proposed finish could be white clapboard, consistent with other historic properties. Jeffrey Dearing of the Building Committee suggested a darker color, resulting in more prominence for adjacent buildings. Winkler stressed that the Historic District is “not just a single point in time. It is a tapestry of architecture through a period of time.” But Long said the buildings on either side of the parcel are Colonial style, and the firehouse “sticks out like a sore thumb.”
  • Long and Canciello said there should be an obvious pedestrian entrance.
  • Schmigle said in answer to a question about traffic control that data collection is underway regarding the nearby intersection of The Great, Hillside, and Bacon roads.
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Dave Draper
October 10, 2023 8:09 pm

Does it really matter which way the doors face when this project is turning out to be a Pig in a Poke.

Ted T. Martin
October 7, 2023 1:06 pm

Oh for sure the Firehouse doors should face the street, that seems to be a “given” to me…

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