Selectmen Set Warrant Article for New Fire Station to be Voted at Annual Town Meeting

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Courtesy image (c) Bedford Fire Department, all rights reserved

Three generations of Bedford fire apparatus: The Eagle pumper went into service in 1828, the 1953 Mack fire engine served until 1997, and the Pierce fire engine acquired in 2003.  Acquired in 2014, Ladder One dwarfs them all — it’s 40.5 feet long, and stands just over 11 feet tall.

In finalizing and approving the 2020 Annual Town Meeting Warrant on Monday, February 10, Bedford’s Selectmen voted unanimously to recommend funding a bond authorization to acquire land for the construction of a new fire station at 175 The Great Road. Monday night’s vote by the Selectmen is the first of three phases in building the new fire station: land acquisition, design, and construction.

The proposed new station would be located at 175 The Great Road, with an appropriation for land acquisition of $7,600,000. The property, privately owned, was selected after more than five years of site evaluation, with consideration of emergency response time; programmatic needs (both current and future); research into the availability of parcels, site needs and constraints; and final review by the Town’s real estate and eminent domain attorney.

Discussions about the location and capacity of Bedford’s fire station began during the 1980s, with major studies undertaken in 1991 (Hughes and McCarthy Public Safety Facility Study), 1994 (Donham and Sweeney), 2015 (CDR Maguire and Public Safety Strategies), and a final report in 2018 (CDR Maguire).

The Donham and Sweeney report which led to the 1998 renovation stated, “[The station] will meet the requirements of today and for 10 years into the future, but towards the end of that time, space will become tight again.” Additionally the apparatus bay, in its current configuration, “would never meet the desirable standards for height and working space between the apparatus.

Since 2015, more than 19 parcels have been considered as a location for the new fire station. Evaluations from two independent consultants, and affirmation from Town Counsel, ruled out several Town-owned parcels, including Memorial Park and the garages on Springs Road at the VA, due to perpetual deed-restriction. Many of the other 19 (+) sites were ruled out due to their impact on response times, diminished service capacity, size limitation of the parcel, historical significance, or impact on residential neighborhoods.

Renovation of the current fire station, along with demolition and rebuilding on the same site, was substantially ruled out in 2018. Beyond the site constraints, Town Counsel opined in 2018 that the current site with a larger building would not be feasible since it would block right-of-way to homes on School Ave, and end within inches of the building at 53-47 The Great Road. The site was evaluated one final time by Saccoccio & Associates in early 2020 and definitively ruled out.

Over the past five years, the Selectmen have evaluated all the proposed site locations in Executive Session. Discussions for proposed land acquisition have taken place in executive session to protect the Town’s ability to negotiate directly with a property owner or discuss the legalities of eminent domain.

According to the Town’s Capital Plan, land acquisition for the new station is scheduled for FY21 (Annual Town Meeting beginning on March 23), with design development at Annual Town Meeting in 2021 (FY22), and construction funds for 2022 (FY23).

Costs associated with the new station will be bonded at the best possible rate, due to the Town’s AAA bond rating. Best practice and Town policy allow an annual debt cost no more than 10% of a Town’s operating budget; with current bonds maturing over the next three years, Bedford’s debt will remain within that limit.

Answering Community Questions

Fire Chief David Grunes and Town Manager Stanton will be on hand for an in-depth discussion of the fire headquarters project during the joint Finance and Capital Expenditure Committee meeting on Thursday, March 5. Editor’s note: This will be a working meeting for the two committees and a time for voters to gather further information, not an occasion for public input.

Throughout the month of March, there will be open houses held at the Fire Station, forums for residents to ask questions at Town Hall, and a project website will launch in advance of Annual Town Meeting providing answers on the project history, process, and next steps.