Chester breaks ground for public safety building

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Shiny shovels at the ready, the groundbreaking was about to start. From left, Police Chief Rick Cloud, Architect Kevin Racek, John Russell and Craig Jennings of Russell Construction, Building Committee chair Lee Gustafson, Town Manager Julie Hance, Fire Chief Matt Wilson, Ambulance Coordinator Dan Cook and recording secretary Cathy Hasbrouck. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Last week, after more than a decade of proposals and several unsuccessful votes, Chester broke ground for a new public safety building to house the Fire and Police departments as well as the town’s Ambulance Service approved by voters on Nov. 5, 2019.

On Thursday, Aug. 13, members of building committee, the Select Board, representatives of the builder and town officials gathered on Pleasant Street and in front of the weathered old sign announcing it as the site of the future public safety building for a short ceremony to begin the work.

Gustafson thanks voters for their trust

Select Board member Lee Gustafson, who is chairman of the Building Committee,  thanked all of the people who have been part of the planning the new facility and especially the voters of Chester “who put their faith and trust” in town officials who planned it along with the design team who put the plan together. Then most of the attendees broke out the shiny ceremonial shovels and tried to break the hard packed, rocky soil.

The building is part of a $4.77 million project that will bring the public safety departments together under one roof while rehabbing the existing Chester Town Garage off Depot Street to bring it up to code and make it more energy efficient. The highway department, which has shared the garage with the firefighters and ambulance crew, will then be able to stretch out into the two bays they occupied.

The police will move out of Town Hall when the public safety building is complete and the town government will look at the most efficient use of Town Hall’s first floor space.

As many as six emergency vehicles must fit into the two-bay, four-door portion of the town garage leaving little usable space for anything else.

This has been a long journey for the fire and ambulance crews. Funding for a new public safety building was defeated by voters three times, the last in 2008. The building cost had been reduced from $7 million for the first plan to $2.5 million in 2008. And with 1,729 residents voting in the grip of what is now called “the great recession,” the margin of defeat was only 25 votes.

Since then, the dark, overcrowded and unsafe space at the town garage became recognized as a problem not only for operation and morale of the first responders, but also as a code issue with the State of Vermont. Town officials understood that if the myriad problems with the garage building were not corrected the state was likely to step in and mandate the solutions.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $4.77 million bond issue to construct the 15,000-square-foot building on Pleasant Street with 499 residents casting ballots on the lone issue. The bond passed 315 to 183 vote with one spoiled ballot.

According to Town Manager Julie Hance, the building should be erected and closed-in by winter and completed in 2021.

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