WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town manager Tuesday shared some insights into the process the town followed to build a new police station in order to inform the Prudential Committee about how it might proceed with its plans to replace the Water Street fire house.
The committee, which oversees the Williamstown Fire District, has followed a slightly different path than the town, but there are lessons the panel was able to take away from the discussion.
The principal takeaway was that the Prudential Committee is on the right track with its plan to seek an owner's project manager to help move the project alone.
Town Manager Jason Hoch verified that the district could employ the OPM with a contract structured so that the project manager would be retained for different phases of a building project. And if the district decided to halt the process, it could do so.
Finding the right OPM and project architect are key, Hoch said.
"Choosing your architect and project manager wisely, hopefully means that, for the district, it becomes an easier operation down the road so you don't have to do it all yourself," Hoch said. "There were days when [Police Chief Kyle Johnson] and myself joked that if it was up to us, there would still be a big hole in the ground."
Like the town, which started discussing a new police station and conducting studies in 2004, the fire district has been talking about building a new fire house for years.
The town had firm plans in hand when it asked voters to approve the acquisition of the former Turner House on Simonds Road in 2017. When fire district voters approved the purchase of the former Lehovec property on Main Street the same year, the Prudential Committee had years of studies of what the department needs and a convincing case for why the Water Street facility does not work.
"To question to unravel as we matched your process to ours is how close you are to being at that full feasibility/proof of concept," Hoch said. "In our equivalent, me saying, 'Hey, I'm ready to buy Turner House.' That was the first phase. The next phase was to bring on the architect, the OPM and get to bid documents. And those are two very different documents in terms of contracting.'
Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley asked whether given the amount of pre-design work the engineering firm the Maguire Group, it makes sense for the district to put out a request for services for an OPM who can help identify an architect to begin the work of designing a project that can be put before the voters.
Hoch indicated that now is the time for that.
"I think that's exactly where you would be," Hoch said. "You would be looking to update those plans for current standards that have changed, checking against whether that's what the department wants and needs in a building.
"Have the broader conversation again, re-engage the community at large with the needs not only for a station but some of the specific features in the [Municipal Resources Inc.] study. That's one of the things that's hard in any public building. There are parts of [the police station] that we all know we have to have in a certain way and need to perform in a certain way. People who aren't connected to that don't necessarily have that same amount of knowledge. There's a little bit more education of what needs to happen.
"You can't just have any washer and dryer in your [fire] department to wash gear. Especially now, the standards are separate air-handling and all the rest for that. There's a little bit of education about what some of those components are and why they're important.
"The good news is, you're not starting from scratch."
On the contrary, the fire district does have the recent MRI study that detailed the inadequacy of the current fire station. It also has a continuing relationship with the Maguire Group.
On Tuesday afternoon, Prudential Committee member Ed Briggs told the group that he recently communicated with an engineer at the Maguire Group who said Williamstown's planned fire station may require a smaller footprint than previously anticipated.
"We have an original set of plans, but that's not really what he's thinking about today," Briggs said. "He thinks that our footprint is going to be much smaller than what was designed 12 years ago. He called me this afternoon because his people are still working on that, and he knew we were having a meeting this afternoon.
"He wanted to assure me that within a week or 10 days, we should have something that places what they consider to be the type of building that will serve our needs now and and in the future for upwards of 50 years … with space for expansion, the building laid out on the site. A lot of the things the town manager just spoke of are in the works."
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