Early plan for Chester EMS building unveiled

Select Board member Lee Gustafson presents EMS plan last Wednesday night. Click a photo to launch gallery. All photos by Cynthia Prairie

By Cynthia Prairie
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A preliminary plan would put Chester’s Police, Fire and Ambulance departments into a single new building on Pleasant Street and rehab the Town Garage on Depot Street solely for the Highway Department.

The total cost for both projects is estimated at $4.6 million, with the new, single-story, 14,500-square-foot building costing up to $3.5 million. A tax hike of .055 cents with financing from a 30-year bond is expected. This would mean a tax hike of $55 a year on a home assessed at $100,000.

Chester Select Board member Lee Gustafson, on Wednesday, Dec. 5,  presented to the board the plan for a new Emergency Services Building for Chester police, fire and ambulance, to be located on the long-empty site on Pleasant Street that for years has been designated for such a building. You can read the plan by clicking here.

From left, Dan Cook, Wanda Purdy, Derek Suursoo and Gary King listen during the meeting.

The biggest problem that the town faces with the current setup for the Fire Department and the Emergency Medical Services is that the steel frame building they — and the Town Highway Department — are housed in is out of compliance with state building and fire codes. The state has told the town to come into compliance, but has not given the town a deadline for doing so, Gustafson told the board. Select Board chairman Arne Jonynas added, “If we do nothing, the state will come in and force us.”

The building is also too small for personnel and equipment and some equipment — even new pieces — from Fire and Highway must be left outside in all weather, Gustafson said.  In February 2015, the Chester Telegraph outlined many of the problems with the Fire Department facilities, most of which remain to this day.

The Select Board took a first step in looking at the needs of the departments by hiring the local architectural firm of Claudio Veliz to do a feasibility study. Once that was in hand, a committee was formed made up of Gustafson and Fire Chief Matt Wilson, Highway Department head Graham Kennedy, Ambulance chief Dan Cook and Town Manager David Pisha.

After five months of exploring the possibilities, the committee came up with the presentation that was made on Dec. 5.

The committee took two site options from the feasibility study: Depot Street and Pleasant Street. It  then worked out what it called the best and least expensive options from the feasibility study, which was to build a new building on Pleasant Street, consolidate the three emergency services agencies into it, and rehab the Town Garage and expand it into the portion freed by the move of the Fire Department and the Ambulance Service.

Preliminary EMS building artist’s rendering.

The proposed single-story emergency services building would sit on 2 acres of town-owned land on Pleasant Street, next to the Pleasant Street apartments and among private homes, B&Bs, a pizza restaurant and an industrial park. Because of a drop-off, land would have to be built up on the eastside of the property and shored up to accommodate the building. The town would undertake that work. Minutes from Oct. 29 meeting of the building committee indicate that the “single-story building will require an unusual amount of site work (fill), more than the 2008 building would have.” But the conclusion was that omitting the second floor (and the needed stairs or an elevator which would go with it) would offset the cost of the site work.

The building would also be divided among the three agencies, with Police taking the northern-most section, the Ambulance Service taking a central section and the Fire Department taking four bays at the southern section. Gustafson said that the property is large enough to accommodate needed parking for the police, volunteer firefighters, ambulance personnel and visitors. 

Initial design work was done by Centerline Architects of Burlington and Bennington.

Several members of the small audience at the Dec. 5 Select Board meeting spoke up.

Gary King, who lives on Depot Street and whose has a clear view of the Town Garage building from his back yard, told Gustafson that, when the Town Garage is rehabilitated for Highway Department use alone, “It would be nice to infuse design elements … to take into account that it is part of a historic district.”  He then referred to elements from Claudio Veliz’s work and said it would be good to add some of those “aesthetics, like plantings. And I would push the bigger picture for a grander vision.”

Wanda Purdy, a Town Lister, said that while she thinks it is a “wonderful project,” she urged the town to be cautious “because people are worried about taxes,” an issue that she hears about first-hand.

Architect’s rendering of new building’s potential layout.

Derek Suursoo, who had been a fiscal watch-dog during his terms on the Select Board, said, “This has been a long time coming. But on the aggregate level, there are a lot of projects going on. And we should prioritize and target our money.” Gustafson responded,  “A lot of the funding is from grant money.” To which Suursoo said, “There is always a (required) match” of town funds.

To kick off the construction process, last Wednesday, Gustafson had hoped to get Select Board approval to use $46,000 to pay for 50 percent of the design plan, which is made up of design and pre-construction schematics that will give a good idea of how much the project will cost. But, he told the Telegraph last night, that the timeline would need to change because “we  won’t be able to get everything to voters by March.”

The committee, he added just doesn’t have enough time to gather the information that the architect needs for the 50 percent design plan, and “we still need to figure out how to pay for it.”

Gustafson added that the project “won’t be put off for another year. We will have to do something.” He also said that community input will be an important part of the project. “The intention is to let as many people voice their opinions on the proposal as much as possible.”

Below is a general timeline for the project.

  1. Get the “50 percent design plan” paid for ($46,000) and completed.
  2. Community information meetings then will be held.
  3. Once the “50 percent” plan is done, the cost of the entire project can be determined and it can go before the voters for a bond vote.
  4. If the bond vote is approved, the town could go out to bid to “substantially complete” the design package, which will include architects and engineers.
  5. Following completion of the design, the construction phase will then go out to bid.


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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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