Barre goes to polls on Tuesday to vote about new firehall

Rendering courtesy of Barre Fire District: Barre residents will vote from 3 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday whether the Fire District can borrow $2.5 million for a new fire hall that would also have space for a community center that could be used as a Red Cross relief center during an emergency.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 April 2017 at 9:32 am

BARRE – Residents in Barre will head to polls from 3 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday to decide whether the Barre Fire District can borrow $2.5 million for a new fire hall that would also serve as a community center.

Residents can vote at the current fire hall at 4709 Oak Orchard Rd. That building, a former schoolhouse with an addition, has served as the firehall since 1960.

Barre fire officials say the building is too small for today’s fire trucks. The building also needs an overhaul to meet today’s codes.

Photo by Tom Rivers: The current fire hall for the Barre Volunteer Fire Company was built as an addition to a schoolhouse in 1960. Firefighters say the site is cramped and many modern fire trucks are too long or tall to fit inside and have to be retrofitted to squeeze into the Barre firehall.

The $2.5 million project would give the Barre Volunteer Fire Company much needed space for fire trucks and the new building would also have a community room with space for 140 people.

The Barre Fire District tried to get the public’s support for a new fire hall on June 4, 2014, but the proposition to borrow $1.4 million was voted down, 249-114.

Fire District officials heard from many residents that they wanted a community center to be part of the project, and not just a facility to keep fire trucks, said Mark Farone, one of the commissioners for the Fire District.

The addition of a community center should increase the chances for the project to receive state and federal funding, Farone said. The building would be a designated Red Cross shelter with a full kitchen, four bathrooms total, and a laundry machine.

The space could also be rented to community organizations such as churches, the Red Cross, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Fire District leaders say the current firehall is outdated for a modern fire department. The four bays in the firehall have doors that are 10 feet tall. Many of the modern fire trucks are 10 feet, 2 inches tall. Barre had to have its most recent fire truck special ordered so it was 9 feet, 6 inches in height. That made the truck more costly, adding about $100,000 to the cost, Farone said.

When some departments fill in for Barre because Barre firefighters are on a call, the other departments often can’t fit their fire trucks inside the Barre firehall.

The fire trucks are bigger these days because manufacturers have combined two trucks into one, such as Barre’s new pumper-rescue truck. Combining the trucks means Barre doesn’t need two crews to go with a truck, just one. Dual-purpose trucks helps with the manpower issues many volunteer fire companies are facing.

The new facility would have five bays and have more space for the trucks and equipment.

The Fire District is the taxing authority for the Fire Company. The fire company provides the personnel, and the fire district finances the trucks and equipment. The current firehall is owned by the Fire Company. The new one, if approved by residents, would be owned by the Fire District.

The district currently pays an annual fee to the Fire Company for using the old firehall. That payment would instead be used as the debt payment for the $2.5 million facility, which would be paid over 30 years.

The annual debt payment is expected to be about what the Fire District is currently paying the Fire Company. (The Fire Company’s members would decide the fate of the old firehall. It could be put up for sale and could be used as an auto repair garage or for another business, past chief Jerry Bentley said.)

The Fire District needs voter approval before it can proceed with likely grants for the project, as well as construction bids. There are currently low-interest rates for borrowing, and a lender would agree to a 30-year arrangement for a new building, said Barry Flansburg, the Fire District secretary/treasurer.

If the project is voted down, Flansburg fears firefighters will be stuck trying to upgrade the current building,, without a low-interest loan stretched over three decades. Instead, it would likely take a loan to be paid in a short-term loan. That could actually result in a higher annual cost for taxpayers, while firefighters are still tied to an undersized facility, Flansburg said.

The Fire District has the land secured for the project. Keeler Construction owns the vacant land, north of the current fire hall.

If the project passes on Tuesday, Flansburg said design, approvals and permits would take about six months. Construction could start in the spring of 2018.

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