U.S. Scott Brown toured the city's public safety facility on Wednesday. Officials want a new building.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The ceilings are leaking, the windows are drafty, the lockup woefully out of date — and those are just the most striking issues for the 55-year-old public safety building.
When it opened in 1955, it was considered state of the art. Firehouses scattered about the city were consolidated into the new structure on American Legion Drive along with a new police station.
But the building hasn't caught up with the times, and a complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice about the structure's lack of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act has brought its woes to the forefront. There are tight hallways, rickety stairs, and too many nooks and crannies. It can't expand easily because it's locked between private property and public ways.
It's no secret city officials want a new location and a new building.
"You'll notice these cells as well as the cells on the other side, they were up to date and fully functional in 1954 but today they barely meet ...," Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morroco shrugged his shoulders on Wednesday as U.S. Sen. Scott Brown looked into the tiny holding cell. In another room, he poked at the duct tape covering the aluminum frame on the windows.
Brown, left, with Fire Director Stephen Meranti, Mayor Richard Alcombright and Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco in what passes for the station's exercise room.
"The person who sits here ends up with snow on him," said the commissioner. "But it is a 1955 original frame."
Downstairs, water is leaking on gear, old piping runs below the ceiling. "We roll for everything, we go to car accidents," said Fire Director Stephen Meranti, who added the department responds to 1,200 to 1,400 calls a year. "We had two building fires in the past month ... "You can see what the condition of our building is."
"We actually were in line for a grant to get money to redo the windows but the problem is under the law, we invest so much money into the windows the ADA compliance [kicks in]," Alcombright told the senator. "So the couple hundred thousand to do the windows turns into a multimillion-dollar project. With that we might as well invest in a new facility."
Brown, a selectman in Wrentham before being elected to the state Legislature, said that town had also had to deal with building a new facility. "I went through this before with a couple towns," he said.
"Obviously, you have a building that's struggling to be functional and it comes down to people's health and well-being, too, and their own personal safety," said Brown, who toured the facility as part of his swing through the Berkshires this week. "At some point you're going to need to make some very tough decisions to provide the adequate tools and resources for your public safety personnel to do their job safely."
The senator offered sympathy but nothing concrete. It was up the city — and the voters — to determine the next step, he said. Once they have a plan, "it's imperative for us as a federal delegation to work together to try to find the resources to help.
"We're not going to be the only answer, we're going to be part of the answer, that's my hope."