Westhampton bringing proposed $4.3M safety complex back before voters

  • Steve Holt, left, the assistant fire chief, and Select Board Chairman Phil Dowling stand outside the public safety building in Westhampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Holt, the assistant fire chief in Westhampton, and Phil Dowling, a member of the committee, look over proposed plans for the new public Safety Complex in Westhampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The existing Westhampton public safety complex. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Holt, the assistant fire chief in Westhampton, explains how little room there is in the current public safety building for the equipment and protective gear. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Holt, the assistant fire chief in Westhampton, explains how little room there is in the current Public Safety Building for the equipment and protective gear. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Phil Dowling, on the public safety building committee in Westhampton, walks in the space between Fire Engine one and the fire fighters protective gear. Dowling and Steve Holt, the assistant fire chief, explained that the space is to small for the fire fighter to safely change into their gear before a fire. The new building would have a locker room where all the gear would be stored. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • An architect’s rendering shows Westhampton’s proposed public safety complex. SUBMITTED IMAGE

Staff Writer
Published: 2/3/2021 8:38:30 PM

WESTHAMPTON — A new $4.3 million public safety complex, which was rejected at a 2018 town election, is slated for another vote at a special Town Meeting later this month.

The proposed building would replace the current facility at 48 Stage Road, which houses police and fire offices and vehicles. While voters supported the idea of the proposed facility at a 2018 Town Meeting, they turned down the required tax raise on a ballot question later that year.

According to Assistant Fire Chief Steve Holt, the current building does not provide adequate space or safety measures for fire and police personnel.

“It’s too tight a building for the apparatus we have,” Holt said, noting that the building is not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act, Occupational Safety and Health Administration or building code requirements.

The Fire Department needed to spend $10,000 on a customized engine so it could fit in the current fire station, Holt said, and personnel face various health and safety hazards.

Select Board Chairman Phil Dowling, who sits on the town’s Public Safety Complex Building Committee, also pointed out safety issues with the facility. Lockers are in the same room as the engines, and firefighters must prepare to go out while standing less than 3 feet away from a running engine while exhaust fumes fill the room.

The building also does not contain showers, Holt said, and fire personnel must wait until they get home to decontaminate after going out on a call.

The main portion of the now 7,300-square-foot building was constructed in 1948 as a highway garage, with several additions built over the years. New plans place the proposed structure at over 10,000 square feet.

But as voters demonstrated in 2018, not all residents support the proposal.

Resident David Blakesley is among those who oppose the new structure. Blakesley, who served on the Fire Department for 30 years and previously worked with the department as the town’s highway superintendent, said that his past experience doesn’t indicate the need for a new building.

“For the most part that building just, in my mind, living and working here in town … it’s really nothing more than a truck garage,” Blakesley said. “It houses all the fire apparatus they have, everything is inside in a heated building, nothing sits outside.

“After serving 30 years I have an idea of what goes on, what needs to go on in the Fire Department,” he added. “I think that building is adequate for a few more years yet.”

Blakesley acknowledged that the building does not meet ADA regulations and other safety codes, but said that many old buildings in towns across the state are in this same situation. Despite these code violations, he believes that the Westhampton facility is still usable.

Noting the police and fire departments’ concerns, he said, “part of that is true, but it’s not as big of an issue in my mind as they seem to think it is.”

Blakesley also believes that the revised proposal is poorly timed amid the pandemic, as many people do not want to gather or attend an outdoor meeting in the winter.

“There are a lot of people who aren’t going to attend because they’re afraid of COVID, and I don’t blame them,” Blakesley said. “Being outside in February, for something as important as this, is just wrong in my mind.”

Since the 2018 proposal, the department has secured more than 200 pages of detailed drawings and other planning information, and Holt hopes that these concrete details will sway more residents in favor of the facility. The renewed proposal is also slightly less expensive than the first, down to $4.3 million from $4.4 million.

Bringing the building up to safety standards is not a realistic option, Holt said, and, at a cost of $5.7 million, would be more expensive than replacing the facility.

“There’s no logical, possible way to fix this building for what we have,” Holt said.

While the renovations needed to meet ADA and safety codes would cost around $1.5 million, they would reduce space in the complex. Expanding the building to compensate for this lost space would bring the price tag up to $5.7 million, Holt said, which the town is not considering as feasible.

The special Town Meeting will be held drive-up style at 1 p.m. on Feb. 27 at Hampshire Regional High School.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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