Williamstown Fire Department Poised to Acquire Land

By Stephen DravisWilliamstown Correspondent
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The Prudential Committee and Fire Chief Craig Pedercini discussed the proposed site for a new fire station. The committee had hoped to vote on a purchase-and-sales agreement but it wasn't ready.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Prudential Committee that oversees the town's fire district hoped to go into executive session on Wednesday to discuss acquiring the parcel where it wants to build a new station.

Unfortunately for the committee members, the purchase and sales agreement was not quite ready for their action.

"We're really close," committee member Edward Briggs told a crowd of about 20 at the fire station on Wednesday night.

"But, it's school vacation week. Our attorney is on vacation. The [seller's] attorney is on vacation."

So instead, Briggs said the district is hoping to have an agreement ready the first or second week of March to acquire about 3.7 acres on Main Street from the estate of Kurt Lehovic.

Briggs took advantage of the the committee's regularly scheduled monthly meeting to bring attendees up to speed on what plans the committee has made since its last update in January.

Besides coming "this close" to a final agreement with the Lehovic estate, the committee has begun investigating options for temporary financing it would need to execute such an agreement until it can schedule a special fire district meeting at which voters would be asked to approve the purchase.

The district also has ordered two studies to help make sure the land is ready to build when the time comes.

The committee hired Peabody-based environmental engineering firm Weston and Sampson to determine what, if any, oil or hazardous materials are in the soil at the site.

"For the past 100 years, it has been residential," Briggs said of the site, which currently has four rental houses. "But some kind of 'shade tree mechanicry' has been going on there, and we're not sure what's in the soil."

Briggs said Weston and Sampson is ready to do test borings at the site as soon as the snow melts. He said as long as any contamination can be cleaned up without major expense, it would not disqualify the site in the eyes of the committee.

The district also has ordered a preliminary grading plan for the site by Williamstown engineering firm Guntlow and Associates. Such a study would be required by the town's Conservation Commission before the district could build on the site, Briggs said.

The other move taken by the Prudential Committee was to follow up on discussions at its January meeting and investigate whether a new fire station could be built together with a new police station — thereby satisfying two of the town's needs.

Briggs said he and committee member Edward McGowan met separately with Town Manager Peter Fohlin and Selectmen Chairman David Rempell. Based on those discussions, the committee believes it is best to pursue its own course rather than combine efforts with the town, which is looking to renovate and expand the police station at Town Hall.

The fire district is a separate governmental entity in Williamstown with its own power to tax and its own budget, which operates outside of the town budget. The police department is a town entity.

Committee member Edward Briggs said town officials had advised the district to move forward without considering a combined fire/police building.

"[Fohlin and Rempell] indicated they were in favor of us procceeding on the track we're on," Briggs said.

"The property we're looking at is not large enough to accommodate a combined facility."

Responding to continued questioning from residents at the meeting, Briggs said, "It's almost a moot question unless you can come up with a property that would accommodate both."

McGowan said the fire district had been studying the possibility of a new fire station since 2006, and both he and Briggs agreed that the Lehovic property is the district's best option, being both large enough to acccommodate the structure and near the village center.

A member of the audience asked whether the town and district had considered purchasing the site of the former Agway, adjacent to the Lehovic property, and Briggs said they had.

"That came up in our conversation with the town manager," he said. "The response was there is very little commercial property in town, and he didn't want to take that off the commercial property rolls."

Briggs said the former Agway building — unlike the houses on the Lehovic site — is a valuable structure that should be reused.

"It doesn't make sense to buy a building that's functional — at a premium — and then tear it down," Briggs said.

The district does plan to tear down the houses on the Lehovic property and clear the land if and when it completes a purchase-and-sales agreement. It does not plan to build right away, Briggs said. Any special town meeting this spring would be to raise funds for the purchase and preparation of the site, he said. The actual construction would be down the road.

The district is looking to replace its aging 4,500-square-foot facility on Water Street with a 21,000-square-foot structure that could accommodate its current equipment plus a tanker truck the department needs to fight fires in areas of town not covered by hydrants.

The district's need for a new facility was outlined in a September meeting of the Finance Committee. The district has a revamped PowerPoint demonstration describing the need that it plans to post on a website currently being developed for the district, Briggs said.

In other business on Wednesday, the Prudential Committee took its first look at the warrant for the district's late May annual meeting. District Treasurer J. Paul Dube reported that most of the line items remain unchanged, and the overall anticipated expenditures are down after last year's allotments of $45,000 for a new vehicle for the fire chief and $75,000 to replace the roof on the current station.

Tags: fire department,   fire district,   fire station,   prudential committee,   

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