WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Fire District officials Wednesday decided to reschedule to Feb. 28 a special district meeting to approve a bond to construct a new fire station.
The district had hoped to put the question to voters in December but last month walked back that idea in hopes that it will have more concrete numbers to put before voters.
Prudential Committee Chair David Moresi, who also serves on the district's Building Committee, told his Prudential Committee colleagues that earlier on Wednesday the Building Committee voted unanimously to recommend holding the vote on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m.
"The thought is that by the end of January we should have a good sense of, potentially, some of updated financials pertaining to some contributions or what may come from some gifts or what have you," Moresi said.
Moresi said the Building Committee was looking for a date when it would have more information, maximize potential turnout and, if the vote is successful, move the project forward as quickly as possible.
"I think it's a good date," Prudential Committee member Lindsay Neathawk said. "It's the week after [K-12] school break, so people should be back in town, and it's before the college's spring break. I think it's a perfect time."
Alex Steele said the committee may want to consider providing child care for voters with small children. Neathawk said the likely site of the meeting, Williamstown Elementary School, would lend itself to that amenity.
District Moderator Paul Harsch asked whether the Prudential Committee could designate a snow date for the meeting in light of the late February date. Prudential Committee John Notsley said that in the event of severe weather, the special district meeting could be adjourned to date certain, as the town did last spring with the annual town meeting.
The Fire District is a separate municipal entity apart from town government with its own taxing authority. Its annual budget and, in this case, bonding capability are subject to the approval of residents who attend district meetings.
Generally, the district holds one annual meeting in the spring. The last special district meeting occurred in 2017, when attendees OK'd the purchase of the Main Street parcel where officials hope to build the new station.
The district is led by the five-person Prudential Committee, which functions in many ways like the Select Board at the town level but with more control of the district's day-to-day finances.
Wednesday's Prudential Committee meeting was the first with the district's newly hired treasurer, Billie Jo Sawyer.
In addition to the regular review of the district's financial position and approval of monthly expenditures, most of Wednesday's meeting focused on the building project.
Bruce Decoteau, a project coordinator hired by the Prudential Committee to advise the panel, informed the members that progress was being made on a final contract with district owner's project manager Colliers International and that the district late Wednesday received geotechnical reports on the 3.7-acre Main Street site.
Previously, the district's architects advised that it was waiting on that geotechnical data to make a more definitive cost estimate for the project.
Construction costs alone for the new 27,500 square foot station are projected to be in the neighborhood of $18 million but could more likely be more than $20 million once "soft costs" are added.
The Prudential Committee also voted to accept the Building Committee's unanimous recommendation to purchasing photovoltaic equipment in that estimate.
Moresi said the district had the option of either owning its solar panels or leasing them, but the Building Committee believed the return on investment of ownership made it a smarter financial decision.
The Prudential Committee agreed and voted 4-0-1 to buy, rather than lease, the panels. Steele abstained from the vote, explaining that he thought the committee needed more data before making the decision.
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