The Recorder – Future Charlemont commission to assess the space needs of the city’s services

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CHARLEMONT — The selection committee has decided to form a construction committee for emergency services facilities, a subject that will be discussed at the annual municipal meeting on May 24.

The city plans to build either an addition to the existing fire hall or a new municipal building at an undetermined location that would house police, fire, EMS, emergency management and municipal services. Aside from a general lack of space, the current fire station is in a flood plain, so if a storm does occur, “basically all of[Charlemont’s]emergency equipment will be at risk,” a said Dan Girard, member of the Selectboard.

Having only completed a space needs assessment for the fire and EMS departments, forming a building committee is the next step in the process, according to an email from Fire Chief Dennis Annear sent to the city.

Ideally, Annear wrote, the committee would consist of seven people: a representative from the police department, a representative from the fire department, a representative from EMS, a representative from the finance committee, a business owner and two members of the General public. The fire chief, police chief, EMS director, and city administrator would contribute as non-voting members.

Once assembled, the committee will “meet regularly…as needed during the design process” and “report periodically” to the selection committee, which will have the power to make all final decisions, according to Annear. The committee’s first responsibility would be to initiate a procurement process to contract with an owner’s project manager “engaged in the practice of providing project management services for the construction and supervision of buildings.”

“The purpose of this committee will be to review the space needs of the various departments, review sites for the new building, hire a project manager from the owner and oversee the design of the building,” Annear explained. .

The current fire station at 5 Factory Road, which was in use when Annear began serving the department in 1976, lacks space to operate, disabled accessibility, storage and essential amenities.

“At this point, we are completely out of compliance with current codes,” Annear said.

Specific amenities the station lacks include showers, changing rooms and a full commercial kitchen, which Annear says must have a “Red Cross-approved shelter”. However, the lack of space in the bay is perhaps the most direct cause for concern, as new research has shown a higher incidence of cancers in fire departments that jam gear near diesel trucks, according to Annar. Of the four vehicles at Charlemont station, he said, only one is fitted with an exhaust filter.

Annear also highlighted the space needs of other emergency services when considering the prospect of a common municipal building.

“There is a definite need to have a bigger police station and a definite need to have something bigger for the ambulance,” he explained. “The police station is really pinned down in a room, so they really only have a public space where they can lock themselves in and question someone.”

As well as acknowledging flood-related amenity safety issues, the Selectboard discussed the lack of space to house refugees affected by natural disasters, citing Hurricane Irene as an example. Currently, board members have recognized that Hawlemont Regional School in Charlemont is the only shelter readily available in such situations.

Additionally, Girard has expressed interest in having municipal meeting space in any building that can be constructed. Willis, however, said that would be “a bit excessive for a town that has no money”, arguing that the school should suffice.

Annear estimated the construction contract will cost more than $1.5 million, an expense the council is hoping to get grants to offset.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if federal funds were available for public safety buildings,” said selection committee chairwoman Marguerite Willis.

Annear said the building will be an addition to the current fire station or a new municipal building depending on what the building committee determines is “best value for money”. The timing of the project is also uncertain. Somewhere along the line, however, the city intends to hold a public forum to gather residents’ opinions on how to proceed, Annear said.

“We would like to (complete the project) as quickly as possible,” he said, “but the way communities move, it will be a long process.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or [email protected]

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