Fire station site returns for third vote
A proposal by Groton officials to buy a Main Street property for a new fire station will go before residents tomorrow for the third time this year.
The land purchase is expected to generate lengthy debate during the fall Town Meeting session opening tomorrow night, said Town Manager Mark Haddad. Already this year, the proposal has been delayed once and rejected once. But this time, the town has more information about other potential sites, and the price to acquire the former Sacred Heart Church property at 279 Main St. has gone down.
The town is asking residents for permission to buy the property for $325,000 from the Archdiocese of Boston, which plans to donate the vacant church building to a local college that would move it off the site. The new firehouse would replace the Center Fire Station near Town Hall. The Station Avenue site is too small for a larger building, officials said.
“My main goal is to come up with a solution to an inadequate Center Fire Station that best meets the needs of the entire town,’’ Haddad said. “We’ve done all the homework, and I think we have a reasonable solution. There are concerns with the site, so we’ll see what happens at Town Meeting.’’
The town held a public hearing on the proposal last week that drew about 60 residents, many of whom raised issues about the warrant article.
Haddad said the debate won’t be about whether the town needs a new station, but where it should be built. Some residents who live in the residential neighborhood along Main and West streets question the cost of the acquisition, whether all other potential sites have been fully examined, and whether a fire station would fit the character of the surrounding area.
Alison Eydenberg, who lives at 254 Main St., said she doesn’t think the town has done enough research on the Sacred Heart site to make sure it’s adequate for a modern fire station.
“I don’t feel there’s been enough due diligence on the site,’’ Eydenberg said.
Stanley Wrobel, who lives at 258 Main St., said he thinks the cost is too high. And Wrobel’s wife, Deborah Burton, doesn’t think a fire station is appropriate for the neighborhood.
“It ruins the character of that part of town,’’ Burton said. Burton also said she thinks that the site doesn’t meet the criteria set by the town’s Fire Station Relocation Committee, and that other properties should be considered. She said the committee wants an acre for the fire station, but the Sacred Heart site is a little less than a full acre.
“The town has already voted it down twice, and they keep bringing it back,’’ Burton said.
Not all neighbors are opposed, though. Mary Kopec, who lives around the corner at 21 West St., has a sign in her yard supporting the fire station.
“We just think it’s the right spot for it,’’ she said.
Groton has three fire stations, one in the Lost Lake section, one in West Groton and one in the center of town. The Center Fire Station was built in the early 1900s and is inadequate for today’s needs, according to Fire Chief Joe Bosselait. He said the station is too small to hold the required equipment, the bays aren’t big enough to handle modern fire engines, and the electrical capacity is too small.
“We need a new station desperately,’’ Bosselait said.
Given Groton’s size of 33 square miles, Bosselait said, the location of the station is the key to maintaining short response times to emergencies.
Bosselait said the church site is his first choice. He said it will guarantee desirable response times, provide enough space for the department’s equipment, and has good sight lines onto Main Street so its emergency vehicles can be seen by traffic.
According to the Fire Department, moving the station’s site just 1 mile to the east of the center would add two minutes to the response time to the west side of town during the day.
“It’s critical that we pick the right part of town and not go far from the center,’’ Bosselait said. “We’re really trying to stress that response time is the biggest thing. Seconds count.’’
Last winter, the town proposed buying the Sacred Heart property, which was on the market for $475,000.
But a vote at Special Town Meeting in February was delayed after residents requested more information.
The town then established the relocation committee, which looked at as many as 20 sites, Haddad said. The list was narrowed to three, with the Sacred Heart property ranking first, followed by surplus land at the town’s Electric Light Department site, and the former Prescott School property.
In June, the proposal to buy 279 Main St. for $450,000 went back before Town Meeting, but was rejected by voters.
Haddad said some residents thought the cost was too high, and they didn’t want to pay for a church they wouldn’t use.
Since then, the archdiocese agreed to donate the church building to Thomas More College, a Catholic school preparing to relocate to Groton, and dropped the price to $325,000. Haddad said the town would use $200,000 from its stabilization fund and $125,000 from ambulance fees to cover the purchase.
In the meantime, the town did a more in-depth study of the Electric Light Department site and determined that it had too many drainage and wetland issues, Haddad said. The cost to prepare the site would be more than twice as much as the Sacred Heart purchase, he said.
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.