Prefab Fire Station Likely

            The final act of the Rochester Public Safety Feasibility Study Committee will be to present its findings on Monday night to the Select Board during the latter’s public meeting, upon which it is anticipated the Select Board will appoint a Building Committee to pursue next steps.

            If the town succeeds at building a new Fire Station, a ball-park construction price of $21,000,000 would add $690 to the average homeowner’s annual tax bill based on a 30-year bond.

            That number only represents hard construction costs for the largest piece of a two-department, three-location project that was studied by the committee this year while contracting with Cambridge-based design engineer Ted Galante.

            By all accounts, Rochester’s Fire and Police stations are woefully outdated and in desperate need of improvement.

            The town’s evolving needs and deterioration of present facilities led the committee to conclude in concert with Galante that the most-effective solution would feature a new main Fire Station to replace the longstanding main station at the corner of Hartley Road and Pine Street next to Rochester Memorial School. It will also include a substantial upgrade and expansion of the current Police Station on Dexter Lane, and the third piece would be a second Fire Station to serve the east side of town and significantly shorten emergency-response times.

            The members met for what they believe will be the final session as a study committee on Tuesday afternoon at Rochester Town Hall, and the one certainty emerging from the meeting was that Rochester taxpayers need to see evidence that the committee has done everything it can to knock down construction costs that since the COVID-19 pandemic, have skyrocketed for all municipal and private projects.

            “I think we can get that price a whole lot lower with a steel building,” said Fire Chief Scott Weigel, alluding to potential options with Morton and Cape Building Systems, Inc.

            The Town of Mattapoisett spent approximately $12,000,000 to build a comparably sized main Fire Station, but that conventional construction was completed prior to the pandemic. The Police Station expansion/renovation is the only portion of the Rochester project that requires conventional construction methods, which are vastly more expensive than the prefabricated options available to the Fire Department.

            Committee Chairman Arnie Johnson summarized the final report, referencing a meeting with Finance Director Suzanne Szyndlar that yielded the projected tax-rate implications.

            The feasibility study yielded that Galante’s design for the main Fire Station in a stick-built method would cost $900 per square foot, while precast panels would cost $700 per square foot.

            While the committee has gone at this on the basis of three structures, Johnson readily admitted what finally happens is up to the Select Board and then voters.

            “I think a lot will depend on if we can get the main Fire Station costs lowered,” he said, noting that Szyndlar’s figures were based on an average Rochester home price of $550,000, a $690 tax rate and a debt-exclusion override at Town Meeting. “The way it usually goes is, depending on what the (Select Board) wants to do, you have to get … from the Fire (Station) side of it, in-house (management) people.”

            The picture changes, Johnson explained, if a prefabricated construction is done because those companies streamline detail work with their own architects and engineers, shortening up the whole design process.

            Johnson anticipates an article on the Town Meeting warrant that would go for that portion “all in one shot,” then if approved it would then go to the ballot box for an override vote.

            Regarding the Police Station plan for expansion and renovation via the traditional stick-built construction method, Johnson suggested the project will request design funding, after which firms would bid and meetings would be held with Police Chief Robert Small. Town officials would then come up with a design and a cost, then the matter would go back to voters for construction funding.

            While Johnson noted that the committee members all know a new main Fire Station is needed and that a smaller station on the east side of Rochester would drastically shorten emergency-response time, the Feasibility Study Committee was a prerequisite to any state funding of the project.

            The Wareham-sourced water being used for east-side projects such as the large, commercial/residential development at the junction of Routes 28 and 58 will also make life easier for a new Fire Department substation.

            MassWorks grant funding is helping build the water main extension for that parcel of projects. The developer (Steen Realty) will pay the Town of Wareham for the water, not the Town of Rochester, explained Johnson. Between the MBTA Commuter Rail station and a new self-storage business adjacent to the day-care facility, the east side of Rochester is due to improve where it concerns fire protection and other infrastructure.

            Committee member Dave Arancio, a member of the Finance Committee and who serves as town moderator, attended the meeting via Zoom and pointed out that state law will require a competitive bidding process even in the case of a Morton-style, steel building largely constructed off site.

            As soft costs were considered, Weigel said, “I think we need to get to a point where we know what the construction costs will be” and that the town needs to obtain hard figures on different construction methods.

            “A functional building is what we’re looking for, a lot of storage and function. We’re not looking for a Taj Mahal,” he said.

            Rochester Facilities Manager Andrew Daniel noted that prefabricated, steel buildings are now shelled in such a way that they can take on the appearance of being more traditionally constructed and be more attractive. “It’s not the ugly green building, it’s aesthetically pleasing. … A lot of the pictures I’ve seen, I’d never know (it was a prefabricated, steel building.) Our goal is to get (the construction cost) down as low as we can.”

            In appointing a Building Committee, Town Administrator Glenn Cannon anticipates that the Select Board will first consider members of the Feasibility Study Committee, but Weigel requested that Daniel and Eldridge be added to the Building Committee.

            The Select Board meets on Monday, October 2, at 6:00 pm at Town Hall.

Rochester Public Safety Feasibility Study Committee

By Mick Colageo

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