By MADELINE HUGHES
Shelburne voters are being asked to enter into a purchase agreement to potentially buy 2.3 acres of land at the intersection of Route 7 and Longmeadow Drive. With voter approval, the land would be the site for a new combined fire and rescue station. On Monday night, residents gathered at the Shelburne Town Offices for a public information meeting.
“I’ll stay here and answer as many questions as you would like,” Shelburne Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet told the room of over 40 residents. “I want this to be as clear as possible to progress this department into our future.”
On March 5, voters are deciding to put $25,000 into the budget for studies to see if the town can build on the land, and start getting subdivision permits.
Ouimet added that if the March 5 vote passes, he will continue the conversation leading up to potentially buying any property. The purchase agreement with Healthy Living Market would set up a 2020 Town Meeting vote to buy a 2.3 acre parcel of the subdivided land for $650,000.
“I’ll take questions all year long, I’ll give you my email, my cell phone, I want to answer your questions,” Ouimet said.
The meeting Monday night went for about two hours. Ouimet, Deputy Fire Chief John Goodrich, Rescue Chief Jacob Leopold and Deputy Rescue Chief Devin Major sat at the front of the crowded room to discuss what this year’s ballot question entailed. Each department head gave an overview of their needs, with a slide show.
Ouimet showed slides of a crowded firehouse.
“If you look at it like a puzzle, they have to go in a specific way or they won’t fit,” he said. Currently seven pieces of equipment sit in the six bays at the firehouse.
The discussion then turned to the rescue station, and Leopold took over.
“What this photo doesn’t show is a power line cutting across the bay,” he explained while showing a photo of where the ambulances sit. “The outlets on one side don’t work, so we have to plug the fridge into there.”
He also pointed to the water damage at the bottom of the walls, and the frozen pipe signs in the kitchen.
When asked about how the buildings could be repurposed, Ouimet said that the fire station would have to be brought up to code. Currently, the second floor is only accessible by very steep stairs, a fact brought up by resident Sarah Tompkins.
The consensus of the crowd seemed to be that the rescue building is falling apart.
Leopold said the rescue building is located in a wetland, which is why it cannot be expanded in the future. He added that it might just have to be taken down.
“It may come down anyway,” an audience member joked. Others laughed.
“Let’s hope not until it’s supposed to,” said another.
Still feeling conflicted by the vote to bond for a new Pierson Library, Sean Moran asked why hadn’t this building been brought to the attention of town officials. Ouimet reiterated that a study, one he referenced multiple times Monday, was conducted 12 years ago, and had been brought to the attention of multiple selectboards and previous town managers.
Previous Rescue Chief and Shelburne resident Linda Goodrich added she had brought the departments’ needs and the possibility of buying land to the previous town manager before the library project was voted on.
“I don’t think we can use that experience as a reason not to do this,” selectboard member Mary Kehoe said. “In fact I think that experience is a reason to do this.”
She explained that the long process and multiple votes to buy the property were exactly the reason why residents should vote to enter into the agreement.
There likely won’t be a new station built in the next three to five years, even if the current measure is voted on, Ouimet said.
“We are going to do this process and take our time,” he said. He and the other chiefs explained they wanted the station to outlast them.
“We are matching tax money because we believe in this,” Leopold said.
The rescue department has operated out of its own budget funded by ambulance fees for the past 11 years.
Another man asked why the rescue station couldn’t be built on the little league fields.
Even if there was an expanded fire station, both Leopold and Ouimet said they see more traffic as a concern for both departments. Being north of the town where Route 7 is wider than two lanes could help alleviate those issues, they said.
Goodrich added that the possible expansion plans for the fire station were designed when the rescue department had about 600 calls a year. Now, the department receives over 1,000 calls annually.
“Imagine pulling out onto Route 7 from here, lights blaring, 1,000 times a year,” he said.
Leopold nodded along at the front table. Just then, emergency pagers rang out and the rescue crew in the back of the room were called out. As they grabbed their coats and shuffled out of the room, Leopold pointed at them and said, “There you go.”
Getting back to the question, he said, “That might have been a good decision 10 years ago, but it won’t be 10 years from now.”
Another man said he was uncomfortable with the public/private partnership with Healthy Living Market, which currently has an option to buy the property currently owned by Rice Lumber.
“They didn’t get top dollar from us.” said Ouimet, who was privy to the negotiations. “They can move to the back of the property and sell the front part at top dollar.”
Instead, Ouimet said he was happy the market approached the town, and doesn’t know what, other than quick fire and rescue service, Healthy Market has to gain.
The chiefs said they were pleased with the turnout, and conversations continued between neighbors after the meeting concluded. Ouimet and Leopold encouraged people to reach out with questions.
“Our only concern here is to make sure people know what this March vote is,” Ouimet said.
Ask the chiefs:
Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rescue Chief Jacob Leopold: email@example.com.