WILLIAMSTOWN -- An upcoming meeting asking residents to approve the purchase of property for a new fire station has tempers flaring.
"I have always been for a new fire station, I just don't agree with the fire district's approach," Finance Committee member Dan Gendron said Friday.
The fire district meeting, slated for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 15 in the Elementary School auditorium, will ask voters to approve $575,000 for purchasing the 4.7-acre Lehovec property at 562-580 Main St., and removing four houses.
Gendron and other residents have called for a joint police and fire facility, citing possible cost savings to the town. A Public Safety Building Study Committee (PSBSC), which Gendron serves on, was formed to explore sites for a new police station and the possibility of combining facilities under one roof.
The district is a separate government entity from Williamstown, is overseen by a three-member Prudential Committee and has its own taxing authority.
Fire Chief Craig Pedercini said the current station, built in the 1950s, lacks needed space for equipment storage and has little room for training.
Pedercini said a major advantage to Lehovec is its location in the center of town, important because the majority of the department's calls are within a two-mile radius.
A yes vote Tuesday will just be the first phase in a multi-year project, he said.
"Further votes will be needed to authorize the construction of a fire station," Pedercini said.
Gendron expressed his frustration over the district not coordinating with the town. The town is pursuing and will have to fund a new fire and police station as well as a new high school at the same time, he said.
"It's not a question of he said, she said about who did or who did not approach each other. Rather it is about a complete lack of coordination," he said.
Pedercini said that site analysis by independent consultants show the property is "unlikely" to be large enough to accommodate a joint facility. But other residents are unsure.
"I think the problem is we don't know it's possible," PSBSC member Andrew Hogeland said.
Hogeland, who also serves on the Finance Committee, said the idea of a joint facility is appealing. But a feasibility study and space needs assessment commissioned by the PSBSC, which could show if the building could even fit on the site, hasn't been done yet.
Hogeland, who warned against a "no" vote to purchase the property, stated the warrant article could be amended on the floor to include a feasibility study for a joint facility.
Sgt. Scott McGowan, Williamstown Police Union President, said the organization "strongly supports" the district's efforts.
"The union is optimistic the voters will concur with [Hogeland's] sharp reasoning behind the acquisition of this particular property," he said.
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