Town Hopes for Firehouse Decision on Jan. 3 Commission Agenda

Bedford Historic District Commission continued discussion of a proposed fire station at 139 The Great Road on Wednesday evening. Image: Kaestle Boos & Associates rendering as presented to HDC on Dec. 6.

Town officials hope the decision on whether a fire station is appropriate in the Bedford Center Historic District will be made at a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 3.

Following a presentation of some granular details on the exterior of the proposed facility at 139 The Great Road on Wednesday evening, Town Manager Matt Hanson asked the Historic District Commission to expedite requests for any additional details.

“I want to reiterate the timeline where we are still targeting the January meeting from your board,” Hanson said, echoing an earlier request from the Fire Station Building Committee.

Scott Gould, who administers commission procedures for the code enforcement office, said at the meeting that a formal application for a decision has to be filed by Thursday, Dec. 21 for action in January. The panel will be asked to allow demolition of the current building on the property, and that’s contingent on acceptance of the firehouse design.

That is becoming more refined with each meeting. On Wednesday, Sean Schmigle, the project’s lead architect with the firm Kaestle Boos & Associates, showed renderings of the building in dark red and dark gray. Earlier versions presented a white building.

Other features presented ranged from foundation stone and window trim to clapboard siding and asphalt shingles. Schmigle displayed renderings from the perspective of three different angles on The Great Road.

Fire Station Building Committee and Historic District Commission are working together to come to a decision on whether a design would be appropriate for the Bedford Center Historic District. Image: Kaestle Boos & Associates rendering as presented to HDC on Dec. 6.

Commission members, who walked the site on Tuesday, focused on the height of retaining walls on the rendering; those features will be needed to accommodate regrading that will be required to develop the lot. The wall on the west boundary varies from four to seven feet tall.

Member Karl Winkler acknowledged that the walls can create a “fortress effect,” and asked if the paved space in front of the training tower on the northeast corner could be used for plantings. Interim Fire Chief Paul Sheehan pointed out that the training will include placement of ladders in part of that area.

In response to a question from member Alan Long, Schmigle said the building footprint is 225-by-75 feet, with the mansard roof as high as 36 feet. The tower is higher; he did not have the exact number, but approximated at 50 feet.

Schmigle noted that the “rough project budget” is scheduled to be calculated by the end of December or early January. A joint meeting of the commission and the Fire Station Building Committee was discussed for Monday, Dec. 18.

Commission Chair Karen Kalil-Brown asked about snow removal. Schmigle pointed to space for snow storage at the rear of the property, and Fire Department Capt. Mark Sullivan pointed out that snow has to be hauled away from the current station.

Some commission members raised concerns transcending their jurisdiction on the exterior appearance of the buildings and grounds visible from The Great Road

At one point, Kalil-Brown asked Sheehan what a new station would provide that is not available in the current facility.

After Sullivan explained that there isn’t enough inside space for a full staff, a training room, or to park all of the department’s apparatus, Sheehan pointed out that the incidence of cancer is higher among firefighters because they often have to deal with carcinogens during calls.

The new fire station will give firefighters the room to return from a call, place their gear in special machines for decontamination, wash their clothing, and even bathe – all in a separate area. None of those steps can be addressed now, he said. “It’s an 80-year-old building.”

Jeff Cohen, who chairs the Fire Station Building Committee, added that the new station is essential to recruitment. Many candidates are lost to other departments with better facilities, he said.

Kalil-Brown asked about the need for a substation, which has often been mentioned because of the distance to residential and commercial development in the Middlesex Turnpike corridor. That needs to be addressed “somewhere down the line,” Sheehan said, “but first, let’s get your excellent Fire Department the firehouse they deserve.”

Kalil-Brown was also concerned about the impact of construction on the water table affecting neighboring properties.

“The current site doesn’t have any mind of stormwater retention,” explained member Jennifer McClain, and the development would require accounting for water generated at the site. Kalil-Brown said this would escalate project costs, but Schmigle pointed out that there are stormwater management costs inherent for any site.

Member Alan Long expressed concern about the view of the building and fencing from neighboring houses on Bacon Road.

“I’m worried about what people see from their windows,” he said. 

Hanson pointed out that residents were promised neighborhood meetings “to talk about those kinds of things,” and they will have input on screening and fencing size and style.

Former Selectman William Moonan, who resides on property contiguous to the south boundary of the site, said he hopes a storage shed planned for the southeast corner can look like “part of the architecture,” instead of “something they picked up at Mahoney’s.”

Schmigle acknowledged that the pre-engineered metal building is a cost consideration. He said that the overhead door needs to face north, and The Great Road, to accommodate access by equipment.

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Timothy Orlean Bennett
December 8, 2023 9:19 pm

What practical purpose does that turret serve to a modern fire station? It is hardly in keeping with examples of the colonial style that defines the Historic District, and I cannot imagine a functional purpose it serves.
Long gone are the days where we need a high vantage to manually look out for fires, so that tower represents an anachronistic eye sore that can only hurt the town’s current argument surrounding the Historic District.

December 12, 2023 8:55 am

It’s a training tower. The firefighters are very particular about how this addition is a good thing. I imagine that they’re going to use the tower for stamina training, practice gaining access to higher spots by ladders on the exterior, and that sort of thing.

June Axtell
December 8, 2023 3:42 pm

None of the photos show the traffic lights needed. How will these fit into the historic district?

Timothy Orlean Bennett
December 8, 2023 9:15 pm
Reply to  June Axtell

The existing site already has an emergency signal running 24/7, and it is safe to assume that this will be the same in that regard. In this manner, it will be exactly as unobtrusive as the current station. In the same vein, it would be ignorant to overlook the fact that the current fire station lies within the Historic District, yet is decidedly not in keeping with the colonial architecture that defines it. Why should the construction of a new sorely-needed fire station not be held to the same standards?

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