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Marshfield approves funds for new fire station

After eight years of failed attempts to build a new fire station, Marshfield is about to replace its century-old facility.

Town Meeting last week approved building a $3.5 million fire station, despite opposition from the Capital Budget Committee, and also agreed to match a federal grant for a new boat for the harbormaster.

The new fire station will replace the Massasoit Avenue station in the southeast section of town. It will be about double the size, large enough to house an ambulance in addition to fire trucks, Fire Chief Kevin Robinson said. Right now, one of the fire vehicles carries paramedics and intermediate lifesaving equipment, but it does not have a cardiac monitor and cannot transport patients.

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Marshfield owns four ambulances, three of which are kept at headquarters; one of those could be moved to the new station, he said.

“I’m definitely excited that we’re going to have a means of addressing that station,” Matt McDonough, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said after the meeting.

The living quarters were built around 1900, according to the chief, and he believes the garage was built in the early 1950s. Broken cement blocks in the garage walls and lack of space have been a problem, he said. The new station will hold four vehicles and two trailers. The old building holds three vehicles and the trailers are kept outside.

The project will be funded by a 20-year bond and fall within property tax limits of Proposition 2½, so no debt exclusion will be needed. Although the bond will incur debt-servicing costs, the town is continually retiring older debt, so the project will not increase tax bills, the town treasurer said.

Robinson had been urging town officials and voters to replace the station for several years. Related action appeared on the Town Meeting warrant in some form every year since 2004, he said.

The new station will be built on the same lot, but farther from the street. At present, the station sits so close to the street that firefighters cannot pull Engine 1 out of the garage and close the door without partially blocking the street, he said.

Supporters said the old station is on the verge of collapse, but some residents questioned that idea. During last week’s meeting, resident Bob Parkis said he toured the building and that it did not seem ready to fall down.

Parkis also warned that if Marshfield were to commit $3.5 million to a fire station, the town would not have enough money in the spring to deal with crumbling sea walls. Another voter agreed, saying it would be unfair to tell coastal residents the town didn’t have money for sea walls if it had just spent millions on a new station.

The new station received support from the town’s Advisory Board, but not from the Capital Budget Committee.  

Keith Polanksy, chairman of the Advisory Board, said the building was in danger of collapse. Although the chief produced an estimate of $2 million two years ago, he said, that price was for a modular building. Today, the chief is trying to give the town the best building it can afford, Polansky said.

According to the chief, the $2 million estimate was obtained in 2009 and did not include several subsequent changes to the building code, such as requirements for hurricane-grade windows and sheetrock that is screwed in place, not glued.

The Capital Budget Committee’s objection stemmed from the price, chairman Joseph Centorino said. He said the committee supported building a station, but voted 4  to 1  to oppose the article because members believed the town could build a station for less.

Like others who opposed the article, Centorino cautioned that money spent on the station would not be available for other projects.

Opponents’ argument was not enough to sway voters, however; the article easily received the necessary two-thirds majority.

In other Town Meeting action, voters approved the purchase of a new, larger boat for the harbormaster’s office. The price is nearly $400,000, but 75 percent will come from a competitive US Department of Homeland Security grant obtained by Harbormaster Michael DiMeo. 

The town will pay $96,668 from the Waterways Fund, which is funded through boating fees, and the cost will be further offset by selling the existing boat for an estimated $30,000, he said.

The harbormaster said the boat he plans to buy can withstand 10-foot seas and has heat, which can be important in rescues, but critics suggested the boat was excessive. One likened it to a Coast Guard vessel, and another called it a “shock and awe boat.”

One resident who identified himself as a professional mariner spoke in support, saying the Coast Guard assists only in dire emergencies, and that he would like to see his fees go toward such a boat.

The new boat will have double the fuel capacity, more lifesaving equipment, and be able to rescue more people in a single trip, according to Police Chief Phillip Tavares. The article passed by majority vote.

Voters did not settle the debate over replacing the wheelchair lift at the town office building. An article to appropriate $34,000 for the project failed after town officials said the existing lift had been repaired and that they had not determined whether it should be replaced with a lift or an elevator.

According to the town clerk’s office, 302 voters turned out for the meeting at Furnace Brook Middle School.  

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