Picking up on efforts that began more than a decade ago, a committee in Chilmark is taking another stab at finding a location for a new fire station that could also be home to a police station and a new office for the Tri-Town Ambulance Service.
The eight-member public safety building site committee has met five times since Oct. 1. It has investigated the frequency of emergency calls, as well as the demand for emergency services in town, and has estimated the square footage that would be needed for a new fire station.
The town’s fire station at Beetlebung Corner was built in the late 1930s and twice expanded — in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the years the height of its garage doors was increased to accommodate larger vehicles. Chilmark’s executive secretary Timothy Carroll said there is hardly any room inside the building for workers to maneuver, and that drainage issues have resulted from the rebuilding of town hall many years ago.
Chairman of the committee Andy Goldberg, who served on the earlier public safety committee more than 10 years ago, said the station was “grossly inadequate.” He recalled that the previous committee had demonstrated the need for a new station, and made some rough cost estimates. It obtained $15,000 in town funding for further planning and studies, but Mr. Goldman said the selectmen at the time decided there were more pressing needs and the committee was disbanded.
Mr. Carroll said that a facility somewhere near Beetlebung Corner in the town center would allow for the best response times to most other areas of town. He said the committee has agreed that other areas might suit an ambulance building but not a fire station.
Mr. Carroll added that earlier efforts to find a new site were frustrated by an unwillingness by landowners to give or sell their land to the town. “A succession of selectmen have tried to negotiate with various landholders in the Beetlebung Corner area,” he said. “And they didn’t make any progress.”
A second fire station on North Road was funded by the owners of a nearby subdivision about 20 years ago to help service their properties, and the land was donated by a private resident. But because of a conservation restriction, the town cannot expand the facility there or alter its purpose.
Two years ago, selectman Bill Rossi tried to negotiate with landowners in town regarding a public safety site, but was also unsuccessful, Mr. Carroll said. Mr. Rossi also serves on the new committee.
Committee members are now working to draft a town meeting warrant article seeking $30,000 for planning and architectural studies, and another $10,000 to hire an owner and project manager (OPM) as required by the state for buildings expected to cost more than $1.5 million. Mr. Carroll believes a new facility would cost between $1.5 and $3 million.
Efforts by the Tri-Town Ambulance Service and others to move the service’s main office from West Tisbury to a more central Island location have provided momentum for the building study. Aquinnah police chief Randhi Belain, along with Tri-Town chief Paul (Zeke) Wilkins, who serves on the new committee, has been pushing to relocate the office to improve its response time to Aquinnah and Chilmark.
At least one Tri-Town worker is stationed in each of the three towns, but only during the summer. And the crossroads station in Chilmark does not have a place for sleeping, Mr. Carroll said. “So that’s kind of a push to get this whole committee running.”
Chilmark also handles the payroll and other financial matters for the Tri-Town service, which Mr. Belain said is another reason to focus on Chilmark for the relocation.
Mr. Belain has been urging the service to keep an emergency worker in Aquinnah throughout the year. He said a lower off-season budget and reduced staffing at Tri-Town were among the reasons for the lack of staffing in Aquinnah. Mr. Wilkins said this week that he planned to station a paramedic in Aquinnah as of Jan. 1.
Besides its desire to be centrally located, Tri-Town is also hoping to expand. It now has as many as five full-time employees and 35 volunteers, Mr. Wilkins said. “It’s a business . . . and we just need to expand and grow with the times.”
The next meeting of the public safety building site committee is scheduled for Jan. 4.