Officials gear up for another run at new Southampton police-fire station

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 08-17-2023 6:16 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — With $35,000 secured in the state budget to help pay for a feasibility study, the town is moving forward with planning for a new public safety complex to replace the police and fire stations, an effort that has been ongoing for years.

“The only way to really appreciate how antiquated these two facilities are is to actually go in them,” said Town Administrator Ed Gibson. “They are well beyond their useful life.”

The current police station is located in the old town hall, which was built in 1904, with an addition for police built in 1972.

The fire station is even older, having originally been built in 1863 as a schoolhouse. In 1971, an addition was built on three sides of the building to accommodate the Fire Department.

“There are code issues with them which would be very costly to bring up to date, and the facilities currently don’t have what would be the mod ern requirements for fire, EMS, or police facilities,” Gibson said.

As a next step in the planning process, the Southampton Public Safety Building Committee held a kickoff meeting on Aug. 7 with HKT Architects, the firm the town is working with on the feasibility study.

“I really envision a structure that supports the functional needs of police and fire, and I think that’s gotta be communicated [to the public],” Police Chief Ian Illingsworth said at the meeting.

Community engagement was at the forefront of the conversation.

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“I want to see a successful embracing of this whole project at Town Meeting,” said Cindy Palmer, a Council on Aging representative on the committee.

Planning for a new public safety complex has been ongoing for years in Southampton. According to Gibson, a feasibility study was completed and a building proposal went to Town Meeting back in 2014, but did not pass.

“At that time … people thought that the proposal was more than what they needed and it was too expensive,” said Gibson. “But we’re at a point now when push comes to shove, we really need to do something for our police and fire services.”

“With our last go at this, that building that we proposed was considered a Taj Mahal,” Illingsworth said. “I don’t think the public recognized why you needed such a large building because of the functional needs and requirements and standards of both police and fire services.”

At this point in the planning process, the committee doesn’t have an idea of a budget for the project.

“I think one of the big unknowns is what the town voters will be willing to afford,” committee member Kristina Madsen said at the meeting. “We know that $11 million was too much eight years ago, but I think all of us are stumped by the figure that we can put before residents and get this passed.

“Just the basic is going to cost us a good chunk of money, and townsfolk are going to have to be OK with that,” she said.

Gibson said the feasibility study alone will cost $159,061, and will be completed by March 1, 2024. The study will determine estimated costs of construction and operations.

As a start, state Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, secured $35,000 in funding through the state budget, which was signed into law by Gov. Maura Healey last week.

“I think that you should have a public safety facility that’s safe, and we need to recognize the importance of our police and fire having a safe building to call home for work when it’s their job to go out there and save lives,” said Velis. “Unfortunately, studies cost a lot of money. … This was kind of that first step.”

Four sites are under consideration for the new complex: 204 College Highway, the existing fire station site; 0 College Highway, across from Parker & O’Grady Law Office; 79 Clark St. and 89 Clark St., near Conant Memorial Park.

In the coming months, sites will be assessed by a group of civil engineers, a conceptual design will be created, projected costs will be determined, and a preliminary schedule will be made, according to HKT Project Manager Janet M. Slemenda. Then, a final report will be presented at Town Meeting, where residents will vote.

“Our job is to make sure that the facility is designed to meet the current needs and current code requirements,” said Gibson. “From there, it’s our job to try to portray to the residents of Southampton why this is needed, and hopefully they will agree with us and help us fund it.”

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com or on Twitter@MaddieFabian.]]>