Chester EMS building to go to vote in November

By Shawn Cunningham
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At a special meeting last week, the Chester Select Board set a town vote on bonding for $4.7 million to construct a new building on Pleasant Street to house Chester’s police, ambulance and fire departments. It would also pay for refurbishing and bringing up to code the town garage.

A rendering of the proposed EMS building to be constructed on Pleasant Street. Artist’s rendering.

According to building committee chair Lee Gustafson, the town garage is in poor condition and overcrowded to the point that both fire and highway department equipment are being stored outside in the weather.

In addition, the State of Vermont has told the Chester that the town garage is not up to code and that the town must take steps to correct the problems or face state action.

Over the past 18 months, the building committee – consisting of the heads of the three emergency services, the highway foreman, town manager David Pisha and Gustafson — have met with Russell Construction to come up with a design that matches the current needs for the emergency services.

In addition, the committee has come up with a plan to clean up the existing town garage and upgrade it electrical, plumbing and heating and cooling systems as well its insulation, office space and exterior shell. The board is also considering adding a sprinkler system to protect the building and highway equipment.

The floor plan for the proposed EMS building Artist’s rendering.

The estimated cost of constructing the 15,000-square-foot EMS building on Pleasant Street is $3.991 million with an additional $732,000 for the upgrading the town garage. If the Select Board decides to add $48,600 for a town garage sprinkler system, the cost of the projects would add between 6 and 7 cents to the tax rate over the 30 year life of the bond. That represents a tax increase of $60 to $70 per year for a home assessed at $100,000. With Vermont’s income sensitivity for property taxes, that number could be smaller some individual taxpayers.

Chester voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 5 to vote on issuing a bond to cover the costs of the construction and refurbishing. Informational meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 25 and Oct. 23 and 6:00 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 4 for voters to ask questions and comment on the projects. They will be held at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

In the next few days, Pisha says he will have plans and renderings that the public can inspect at Town Hall.

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  1. David Pisha’s comment below is in response to a comment received and published last week. Since then we have come to believe that the comment was written by someone using an alias and routing the comment through a proxy so as not to be identified. Today we received another using the same setup. Both comments have been deleted.

    The Telegraph welcomes informed, thoughtful and robust commentary from our readers, but we insist that they identify themselves.

  2. Thank you for the comments and concerns relative to the operations of the town and its potential construction of a new EMS building and renovations to the Town Garage. I would like to take a moment to address a few of the comments that have been made.

    1. Chester’s fire and ambulance departments are a vital part of Chester. When researching trends during the last budget cycle, we learned that call volumes for both services have been increasing over the past 5 years. We also learned that the cost to hire out another ambulance and fire service would be considerably higher than maintaining the services ourselves, with a diminished quality in service. The lack of a town service will cause an increase to property owner’s insurance premiums due to the increased response time. In addition, I should note that neither of these departments are “all volunteer.” They are both call-based services and are supported by the tax base for Chester.

    2. Chester continues to be a growing community. Going all the way back to the 1900 census and comparing it to the 2010 census shows an average growth rate of 5.4% per decade. A study by the State of Vermont shows Chester to expect population gains between the years 2010 and 2030 from where they are at present.

    3. There has been a long-running thought that the departments like to purchase equipment just for the sake of purchasing equipment. That is not by any measure a true statement. The existing town garage was constructed in the 1960s. Services required during that time were very different than they are today. Maintaining 96 miles of dirt road, one of the largest number of miles per capita in the State of Vermont, requires up-to-date equipment. On one occasion, the town did not trade in its road grader toward the purchase of a new one. When the new grader was purchased, the trade-in value of the old one was so low, it made more sense to keep it rather than renting a second grader during the year, which was typically done. Better maintenance of roads at a lower cost was done by keeping the old grader.

    4. Scaling back sidewalk plowing has also been discussed over the years. Recently the voters passed an article at Town Meeting to replace the old sidewalk plow with a newer, more efficient plow that could serve multiple purposes. The sidewalks in Chester are heavily used by many families in town who walk to school, walk to various stores, by tourists who participate in the town’s historic walking tour, and recreational purposes. We pride ourselves on being a “walkable community,” which has been a catalyst to the town receiving over $1.5 million in grants for sidewalk replacement and repairs over the past few years.

    5. The town purchased property approximately 15 years ago for the purpose of constructing a new Emergency Services Building. In 2018, a Feasibility Study was performed by a local architect thath reviewed several potential locations for the new building. The construction of a new building at the current town garage site was reviewed and considered to be a proper location. However, when taking into consideration the wetlands on the property as well as the railroad right-of-way, a new building doesn’t fit. There would not be enough room for the turning radius for trucks, etc as well as the needed area for sand, gravel and stone piles. Therefore, the board decided to continue with a design on the new property.

    6. In 2017, the town was visited by the State Fire Marshal. It was determined during that visit that both the Highway and Fire/Ambulance Departments are not in compliance in several areas. These include the welding bays not being isolated, no oil separators in the floor drains, electrical system issues, lack of proper egress from the building, no ventilation system in the building, the meeting & training rooms on the second floor. It was agreed that they would not cite the town in violation since the town was moving forward with a new building within five years.

    7. Chester is seeing an influx of new property owners, both residential as well as commercial. Chester is not a dying community. The growth to the town over the past six years has been very encouraging. The undertaking of the Village Center Master Plan has been a catalyst to long-overdue, much-needed growth and vitality to the community at large. All one has to do is live and be involved in Chester’s community to experience this.

  3. Raymond Makul says:

    For years, the Town of Andover has contracted with Chester for Fire and EMS services. Andover taxpayers fund the annual payments. Undoubtedly, whatever is decided, the taxpayers of Andover will shoulder a portion of the costs through the contractual payments.

    Yet, the voters, or Select Board, of Andover have no input or voice into this matter.

    Back in 1775, American Colonists went to war for their freedom from Britain, with “no taxation without representation” among the grievances. Where is the Andover representation? Why are we not also voting?