Williamstown Public Safety Building Committee to Pursue RFP

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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The Public Safety Building Study Committee expressed some frustration that its efforts to determine the suitability of the so-called Lehovec property have so far come to naught.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's Public Safety Building Study Committee is still interested in the Main Street parcel owned by the estate of Kurt Lehovec.
But the committee wants to see other properties.
After months of trying to reach an agreement with the estate that would allow the town to examine the land before making an offer to buy it, the joint town-Fire District body decided Tuesday to ask the Board of Selectmen to authorize a request for proposals to buy land either for a joint a fire-police facility or a police-only facility.
"Now that we're at a standstill, I'd rather not stand still," committee member and Selectman Andrew Hogeland said.
The impasse has arisen over the issue of access to the Lehovec property for the purpose of wetlands mapping and geotechnical evaluation, committee Chairwoman and Selectwoman Jane Patton explained.
"Geotechnical involves boring into the ground and making sure everything is environmentally sound and physically sound," she said. "There are code requirements that have to [meet] a higher standard [for a public safety building] than for a house or what have you.
"Not knowing if the land could handle this, the committee decided we shouldn't go further until it's tested."
The Lehovec estate insisted the town pay a fee for the right to do test borings on the land, part of which would be returned when a purchase-and-sales agreement is signed, Patton said.
"I responded that we're nowhere near that place yet with this committee," Patton said. "We're supposed to find a site that is viable, and that includes knowing if wetlands and geotech fits the needs of the facility."
The committee already has evaluated 13 pieces of land currently on the market in town and determined that two were suited for further study. After paying for an analysis on those two sites from Reinhardt Associates of Agawam, the committee determined that one of the sites — former Williamstown Financial Center — would not work and one — the Lehovec property — might.
That is when Patton went to the attorney representing the Lehovec estate for negotiations that ultimately went nowhere.
"I'm so frustrated and disappointed we're at this point now when we made some really good progress, especially last fall," Patton said. "Everyone's willingness to come together even though they come from two distinct areas of the town was important.
"It's killing me that we've lost this time."
Hogeland noted it will take some time to develop an RFP that lists all of the town's needs in a piece of land — acreage, access to major roads, proximity to the center of town, etc. But the committee agreed it is important to get that process going.
"It's not like we're telling the Lehovecs we're done, but I'm not inclined to wait any longer," Hogeland said.
At one point during Tuesday's meeting, the committee got a reminder that time is of the essence.
Charles Fox, representing the Finance Committee, indicated the delay created by the failed negotiations with the Lehovec estate could be a blessing in disguise because the town likely won't want to invest in a new police or fire station until it learns the outcome of the Mount Greylock Regional School feasibility study with the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
"I think the town will be reluctant to make any commitments to anything until we know exactly what commitment we're making to the high school," Fox said.
Sgt. Scott McGowan, who represents the Police Department on the committee, disagreed, recalling a recent incident when officers had to guide an unruly, intoxicated suspect down the narrow set of stairs that lead to the current station's cells.
"I disagree with your assessment that this [delay] is a not a bad thing," McGowan told Fox. "Every minute we operate out of that current facility, you as a taxpayer is in a liable position.
"We have unequivocably wasted three months here."

Tags: fire station,   police station,   public safety,   public safety buildings,   

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