Chester holds final info meeting on emergency services building Vote today on whether to approval $4.777 million bond issue

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Residents listen as Gustafson makes his presentation Photos by Shawn Cunningham

With one day to go before voting on a $4.777 million bond issue for building a new home for Chester’s fire, ambulance and police departments and renovating and upgrading the existing town garage, more than 40 residents turned up on Monday night for the last information meeting about the projects.

The estimated cost of constructing the 15,000-square-foot emergency services building on Pleasant Street is $3.991 million with an additional $786,000 for upgrading the Town Garage to hold the Highway Department alone. Currently, the police department is in the back of Town Hall while fire and EMS share two bays of the town garage with the highway department. Recently, state officials have told the town that the aging garage has a number of code violations that need to be corrected if it is to continue in use.

Gustafson listens to a question from the audience

Select Board member Lee Gustafson, who chaired the committee that worked on putting the building proposal together gave a Power Point presentation outlining the process and the reasons for the decisions they made. Among the points brought out in favor of the plan were:

  • The current town garage is overcrowded so that valuable town equipment must stay outside in the weather for lack of space.
  • The town garage is in violation of state health, safety and building codes.
  • The cramped bays of the fire house mean new trucks must be custom built to fit at greater expense. The proposed fire station would eliminate this problem.
  • Renovating the town garage is a cheaper alternative than building a new one.
  • The cost of doing this will be higher in the future than it is now.

At the end of his presentation, Gustafson opened the floor to questions from the audience.

Select board member Heather Chase explains why the board opted for a 50 percent design

Tim Roper questioned whether the building would be energy efficient to save money in the long run. Architect Kevin Racek  told the meeting that the project was still in the design phase and that many electrical and mechanical questions had yet to be decided.

Scott Bonneville asked how Russell Construction – the design/build firm that worked with the committee – came up with the $4.77 million number without finishing the design phase. Racek said that by doing 50 percent of the design — including the building floor plan — the remainder of the costs could be estimated and there is a contingency built into the costs.

Select Board member Heather Chase noted that doing the 50 percent design was a way of saving money. It allows voters to make a decision to go ahead before spending the full amount for design.

Kathy Pellett asked about the timetable for the project and was told that if the bond was approved in today’s vote, the rest of the design work and the bidding could be done in the next few months and construction could start by May with a 10 to 12 month building schedule. Ideally, according to Racek, the work on the town garage would happen at the same time.

Pellett also questioned the location next to a housing complex where many children live. Saying that she was not opposed to the project, Pellett wondered about the noise from sirens.

Select Board member Ben Whalen, who is also assistant fire chief and offered to recuse himself from the discussion, said that the department tries to use some common sense in the use of the sirens and that essentially is isn’t much different from operating out of the town garage where the trucks come out into the residential areas of the depot.

Select Board member and Assistant Fire Chief Ben Whalen notes that the state could condemn the existing garage and then the town would have to pay for what the state might mandate

Finally, the question came down to what would happen if the town voted no. Gustafson said he hoped it would pass, but if not the town would have to go on with the status quo while it regrouped and came up with another plan.

“But I have no idea what the state is going to do,” said Gustafson referring to the code violations in the existing garage.

“They (the state of Vermont) are paying attention,” said Board chair Arne Jonynas. “And they’ll be coming down and telling us what we are going to do.”

Whalen told the audience that the state could condemn the existing garage and he believed this is the town’s chance to do this the way the town wants rather than how the state will mandate it.

Voting on the bond issue is taking place today — Tuesday, Nov. 5 — from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

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