Letter to the Editor:  Additional Comments on Fire Station Site

Submitted by Margaret Donovan

This Wednesday the Historic District Commission will hear from the fire station Project Manager and designers as the final HDC hearing in January nears. Having closely followed this project, I am sure that most of the people who support the current project believe it is for the best — but given its enormous importance, I have never understood the resistance to squarely evaluating underlying problems. 

The Special Act of the Legislature that authorized the Bedford Historic District in 1964 is precisely worded. Before leading the town into the current expensive and time-consuming thicket of challenges at 139 The Great Road, Town officials should have explained to voters why they believed that there was a decent chance that the provisions of the Act would allow for the Commission’s approval.    

Town bylaws state that the purpose of the Commission “is to administer and to enforce the provisions of the Special Act, as amended.” Therefore, identifying which provision(s) might permit deviating from the body’s manifest mission would have allowed for that rationale to be examined and encouraged or discouraged from the start. However, the Town’s due diligence before bringing the matter to Town Meeting did not include a single consultation with the HDC!   

Those who want to look further into the specifics will find them at SaveOurBlock.org. Beyond the uncertainty of the Historic District ruling is the matter of the utility poles. That was another piece of due diligence that was not addressed by the Town Manager in the lead-up to the March 2022 vote. A Public Records request revealed that the DPW was never consulted ahead of time. And the February 3, 2022, presentation to the Joint Finance and Capital Expenditures Committees failed to disclose yet another potentially disabling complication.   

Finally, Michael Seibert’s presentation at last month’s Town Meeting explained the glaring inequities that would be perpetuated by leaving the substation out of the equation. The many possible consequences of ignoring a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make this a true solution include overbuilding and an ATM funding defeat.   

Happily, the firefighters themselves have pointed the way to a successful outcome. Just as the perfect is often outed as the enemy of the good, so can the perceived good be the entrenched enemy of the better. Here’s hoping that 2024 will finally bring Bedford the superior firehouse that the rescuers and townspeople have a right to expect. Because much better is clearly beckoning.  

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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Joseph R Piantedosi
December 6, 2023 8:19 am

The points raised in this letter are very valid and contrary to the comments this is not a done deal until a positive vote occurs by the HDC. That’s the law as stated. The point mentioned about the underground vaults is a huge obstacle that can potentially delay this project for years. I know what the committee said about this but I have been involved with these issues with the utility companies in the past as a Bedford Selectman and was very involved with the Great Road widening project. Lastly, if the town continues to approve housing projects on the Middlesex Turnpike a fire sub-station is inevitable.

Timothy Orlean Bennett
December 5, 2023 8:21 pm

The substation argument is a clear red herring when the town is unable to attract fire fighters to even staff the current station. This was elaborated on by a firefighter at town meeting and has been a recurring issue with the current site.
If we build a substation, we split our already thin resources and still fail to address the underlying problems.

December 6, 2023 10:38 am

A substation would help address the reasons that the town is having staffing problems. There are obvious limits to how much firefighters can get out in front on the issue, but they have been consistent about calling for a substation and the sooner it is acknowledged as an important part of the solution the better. It would save precious time and money to build a substation on Town land and let it serve as a platform while the current station is remodeled. The politics of pivoting should not enter in. Once officials admit that 139TGR is not the bargain it seemed to be, everything would fall into place.

John McClain
December 6, 2023 1:47 pm

The current station needs more than a “remodeling,” any realistic proposal to keep a station at 55 Great Road would involve tearing down the existing building and putting up a new one.

I am not sure how an appropriately sighed and sized ‘substation’ could serve the town’s needs by itself while that reconstruction happens…we would still need a temporary main station somewhere.

And again, I ask, if this is all really about a substation — why submit an article to TM that didn’t actually allow that issue to be addressed?

December 6, 2023 3:41 pm
Reply to  John McClain

I believe I replied to the STM question a while ago. Michael Seibert identified in the course of preparing his presentation on risk analysis that a substation is central to the issue of both equitable town-wide response times and the passage of a construction bond in March. I remember he wondered how the Town could ask residents to finance a station that still leaves them with second-class response times.

The best and most economical way to meet the town’s needs is with a fresh assessment, not a blame-shifting fixation on the past. I’ve heard that other towns are doing or have done similar overhauls of their stations, including Carlisle and North Andover, while maintaining their operations.

Owning up to the true need is the only way to achieve it — instead of just insisting it can’t be done. How can spending $25 million or more on a firehouse that leaves a double-digit slice of residents with substandard response times until some distant day when another $10 or $20 million has to be spent on a substation be seen as either practical or moral?

John McClain
December 7, 2023 10:02 am

You have never answered how the TM article was actually going address the substation question. The article explicitly endorsed the existing response times and said nothing about investigating a substation.

Additionally the question of a substation has been brought to TM’s attention three times now, and each TM has endorsed the current plan with supermajorities.

I can’t find anything on North Andover’s project, but Carlisle looks to be in quite diffrent situation — they have space on their current site to build a new building next to the existing building.

As for “remodeling”, v. “overhauls” v. tearing down and rebuilding…the current building doesn’t have the necessary number of bays and the bays it has are both too narrow and too short. The next engine the town wants to buy will litterarly not fit in the current station.

Considering the limitations of Bedford’s current building and the 55 Great Road site more generally, I find any option that doesn’t involve taking the current building out of service extremely improbable.

Last edited 2 months ago by John McClain
December 7, 2023 4:09 pm
Reply to  John McClain

I’m sorry I am not zeroing in on your concern. I will try again: The substation was not explicitly mentioned when the article was written, but when the sponsor started his research into Plan B — given his background in risk management — he found that a substation was an intrinsic part of any solution. The explicit reference in the STM article to the firefighters’ idea of rethinking the current site was implicitly connected to a tandem substation. That is the beauty of it. And ways to accommodate larger equipment at the current location have been worked out.

Why would anyone insist on a project that overpowers a key stretch of the gateway to the Center, and therefore may not be approved by the HDC, or that experience suggests could well be delayed by the challenges of the utilities issue, if there is an option that improves on the “number one” issue — response times, while achieving all the other elements of a superior rescue protocol for all of Bedford’s residents, in less time and for less money?

The whole point of writing the letter was that a better station is possible and Bedford should not settle for less.

John McClain
December 8, 2023 10:37 am

Margaret, thank you for finally addressing my question. It seems that the Town Meeting article you wrote:

  • Would have been struck down by the State AG
  • Suggested a truly fantastic construction schedule
  • Didn’t allocate any of the necessary funds for the requested work
  • Didn’t address what you now view as the key issue, even thought that issue has been discussed in town for over a decade, and had been explicit discussed in both 2022 Town Meetings.

Going forward, I would request you conduct more due-diligence before asking Bedford Town Meeting to spend their time considering your proposals.

The Select Board has explained why they didn’t purse a substation at this time, Town Meeting has at least implicitly agreed (and I would argue explicitly in this past STM) with this explanation, by supermajorities, in 5 separate votes. I know how painful it is lose a vote you care passionately about in Town Meeting, but let me suggest it is time for you to move on.

December 9, 2023 1:55 pm
Reply to  John McClain

John, I’m glad my last attempt passed muster. I think this thread is long enough so I won’t answer your other points here, but refer you to the Citizen’s Facebook page and will also directly respond to your assertions later today on Save Our Block.

John McClain
December 7, 2023 7:28 pm

I would also add, including cost estimates, without citing a source, or providing the context of what the proposed alternative would cost, is not particularlly helpful to a productive conversation.

John McClain
December 5, 2023 4:39 pm

“Michael Seibert’s presentation at last month’s Town Meeting explained the glaring inequities” that would not actually be addressed by the motion in front of Town Meeting.

As for the telephone polls, the building committee thinks they have that in hand.

Peggy Lundgren
December 5, 2023 2:36 pm

I have little to no skin in this game, but you have to back down. You’re making people so upset. Be better than this. I’m asking you. It means a lot to you for real good or selfish interest. I can’t tell nor do I care. This topic is ovah! Happy Holidays!

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