Westhampton voters advance public safety complex

  • Westhampton Select Board member Maureen Dempsey checks a long line of residents in for a special drive-thru town meeting at the Hampshire Regional High School parking lot to approve a new multimillion-dollar public safety complex Saturday in Westhampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • With the floor open for public comment, Westhampton resident Matt Murphy asks questions about the bidding process for a new public safety complex during a special socially distanced Saturday Town Meeting at Hampshire Regional High School in Westhampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • A special Town Meeting to approve a new public safety complex drew a large turnout, creating an unexpected traffic jam outside the Hampshire Regional High School Saturday in Westhampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

Staff Writer
Published: 3/7/2021 3:43:14 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Supporters of a new public safety complex in town cleared their first hurdle this weekend, when more than two-thirds of residents who turned up for a special Town Meeting voted to move the project forward.

By a count of 221 to 69, voters who came to a “drive-thru” meeting at the Hampshire Regional High School parking lot on Saturday endorsed the $4.3 million project, which would create a larger and more modern station for the police and fire departments on the spot where the current building stands.

That structure, built in 1948 as a highway garage, is too small for the police and fire departments, has poor ventilation, and lacks basic amenities such as showers for firefighters, according to Assistant Fire Chief Steve Holt.

Next, the town will host a special election March 13 to vote on a debt exclusion to give final approval to the project. A simple majority vote is required for passage, whereas a two-thirds majority was needed for the first vote.

Select Board Chairman Phil Dowling said he was cheered by Saturday’s results and surprised by how many people turned out for it, given concerns over COVID-19 and the frigid temperatures that day.

“It was crazy to see all those cars down at the parking lot,” he said. “We really weren’t expecting 300 people to show up, but it’s great that they did, and I’m thrilled to see the support.”

He and Holt said they and other people pushing for a new public safety complex had held numerous public information sessions, including making a video, to make sure residents knew what was involved and why they believe a facility is needed.

“It’s a known quantity now,” said Dowling.

Opponents have said the project, originally pegged at $5.7 million, is still too costly, especially during a time of economic hardship for many brought on by the pandemic.

Dowling said he understands those concerns. But with interest rates low and contractors offering very competitive bids, it make sense to build the new station now, he added.

“I’d love to wait, too, but it will cost a lot more if we do,” Dowling said.

The town has been down this road before. In 2018, voters initially approved building a new public safety complex, then turned down a ballot measure later that year, by a margin of 254-211, to raise the tax rate to finance the project.

If voters give the go-ahead this Saturday, Dowling said, the project is “ready to hit the ground running.” A general contractor from South Windsor, Connecticut, W.J. Mountford, is expected to take down the 7,300-square-foot building and install a new facility of about 10,000 square feet by December.

Firetrucks will be temporarily stored with the Highway Department, Dowling said, while police officers will likely keep their cruisers at home while construction takes place.

Holt said he’d felt confident about Saturday’s vote and is also feeling good about prospects for March 13, but he cautioned that project supporters need to be there for that second vote.

“Don’t assume it only needs that one vote,” he said. “Make sure you’re there next time so we can see this all the way through.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


Copyright © 2020 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy