John Notsley, chairman of the Fire District's Prudential Committee, said there will be presentations about the fire station in the upcoming week.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Fire District is making an all-out push to generate support for its proposal to buy a Main Street parcel and build a new firehouse on the site.
Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley spoke at Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting to discuss the district's plan to acquire the 3.7-acre Lehovic property adjacent to the former Agway on Main Street.
Notsley promoted three upcoming public presentations to explain the need to replace the aging, inadequate Water Street firehouse. The district will make its case with a PowerPoint presentation to be shown at the current fire station on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 5, at 10 a.m.
All that will lead up to a planned Tuesday, Oct. 15, special Fire District meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Elementary School. At that meeting, voters from the district will be asked to approve the $575,000 purchase from the estate of Kurt Lehovic.
The Prudential Committee will meet on Thursday, Sept. 26, at noon to approve the warrant for that meeting.
Notsley on Monday reminded the Selectmen that the entire town has a stake in making sure the Fire Department has a fully functioning facility.
"Some people are unaware that the Insurance Services Office evaluates the department every 10 years, physically, and annually," Notsley said. "It doesn't sound like much, but they come in and analyze the facility, the vehicles, the manpower, the training. That and the experience rate for claims determines our insurance rate for Williamstown."
"If you're a property owner in Williamstown, you've got an investment in the Fire Department, and it's to your advantage, I feel, that we do the best job we can."
Notsley fielded some questions from the Selectmen about specifics of the Fire District's plan, including one from Selectman David Rempell about why the Prudential Committee is seeking a vote strictly on the land purchase when a much larger expenditure — Notsley said in the neighborhood of $8 million — would be needed down the line to build a station.
He characterized the land purchase as Phase 1 of the department's plan and said the district would seek a separate vote on the building bond once architect's plans are acquired. The district felt it needed to purchase the land while it was still on the market, Notsley said.
In answer to a question from Selectman Tom Sheldon, Notsley explained why this property is so essential to the district's plans.
"Because it's in the center of town, basically," Notsley said. "The Fire Department's first priority is saving lives. Second is extinguishing buildings. ... If the station is anywhere other than the center of town, which is we have the most exposure, you're defeating the purpose. The first five minutes of any call makes the difference between life and death."
Not only are more potential victims in the center of town, more of the department's volunteer force live and or work in the town's center, particularly at Williams College. Putting the station near the town center decreases the time it takes them to report in the event of an emergency.
"Fortunately, in Williamstown we haven't had a death from a fire in 20-something years, but it can happen, unfortunately," Notsley said.
Notsley said he has found his experience working on the town's Public Safety Building Study Committee to be productive.
That committee was formed by the Board of Selectmen this spring to look at whether one of the town's pressing needs — a new police station — could be coordinated with the Fire District's plan to build a new station. The Fire District is a separate governmental entity with its own taxing authority outside the town government structure.
Notsley said he believed that the Lehovic property would be too small for a dual-purpose facility. Although it is 3.7 acres total, much of that land is in the 500-year flood plain, he said. While the extra land will greatly facilitate training activities for firefighters, members of the Prudential Committee have said in the past there is not enough buildable land for a combined fire-police station.
"It would not appear at this time that it's possible," Notsley said. "Then again, there's the Agway property adjacent to [the Lehovic property]. ... It's conceivable that could somehow be dealt into the equation."
"And that would enable a joint building?" Rempell asked.
"Potentially," Notsley said. "But the Finance Committee has mentioned on several occasions that when you start taking dollars out of the tax base, that's a double whammy. it's something we all have to look at."
Andrew Hogeland, a member of the Finance Committee who serves with Notsley on the Public Safety Building Study Committee, also appeared before the Selectmen on Monday night. Hogeland said he was not giving up hope that the police and fire departments could be "co-located" on the Lehovic property, which remains one of the sites under consideration by the public safety group.
"I wouldn't say it's clear they won't fit there, both buildings," Hogeland said. "Part of the reason we want to do the study is to look and see whether they would."
The Public Safety Building Study Committee Monday sought and received the approval of the board to spend up to $25,000 on a space assessment for a new police station and site studies.
"It's too early to say they won't fit," Hogeland said. "It's too early to say they would fit... I'm less definitive on this than John [Notsley] is."
"Everything is very preliminary at this point," Notsley said. "Our total focus the last two years was to try to buy the land."