Town Looking at Fire-Police Facilities, Traffic Fix

            Rochester residents could be looking at Spring Town Meeting warrant articles of $110,000 and $20,000 for feasibility studies aimed at two, potential three major construction projects that were in the cross hairs of the Rochester Public Safety Committee in its February 16 meeting with the Select Board at Town Hall.

            Both the Fire and Police departments need facilities upgrades that could develop into new or upgraded headquarters for each or combine them into one headquarters, and the attending members got an initial look at two plans to divert traffic coming from Route 105 behind instead of in front of Town Hall.

            The Fire Department, headquartered at the aged structure at the Corner of Hartley Road and Pine Street abutting Rochester Memorial School, also operates out of two other locations in town including the Highway Department building on Ryder Road.

            Rochester Police is located on Dexter Lane approximately a quarter mile from Town Hall.

            Comparative studies of similar projects in Raynham, Stoneham and Norfolk yielded a range of $85,000-$100,000, and Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar said the feasibility study could easily inflate by $10,000 due to response time.

            Construction costs depend heavily on what information is yielded by a feasibility study.

            Fire Chief Scott Weigel said a potential shift from building a fire station to a facility that would serve both Fire and Police departments would drive the construction cost from an estimated $9,000,000 to $20,000,000. “Is that the direction we’re going?” he asked, posing another alternative of $5,000,000 in fire station upgrades.

            Highway Surveyor Jeff Eldridge said a combination police-fire facility would cost $20,000,000, whereas a fire station would cost $9,000,000 and another $5,000,000 to bring police headquarters “up to what their needs are.”

            Facilities Manager Andrew Daniel weighed in, noting that the limitations on Rochester’s Police station “are getting more serious in nature. We can’t house anybody there now, Marion’s not taking anybody now and Plymouth isn’t either.”

            Town Planner Nancy Durfee advised the town against spending on the project before securing grant funding. She referenced the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant program (MVP), which support climate-change resiliency and priority projects.

            Durfee anticipates a scenario where the town procures a 75 percent grant and needs to put up a 25 percent match. Durfee told the meeting that she had just worked with Szyndlar on an engagement program and put in for a PILOT-program grant but did not get the grant. But she did get a hazard-mitigation program grant.

            “We need to create a committee to work on this … start out as feasibility and transition into a building committee,” said Select Board member Woody Hartley. “We want them to hit the ground running now.”

            Szyndlar said the Select Board can create the committee which would report back to members Chairman Brad Morse, Hartley and Paul Ciaburri.

            Hartley posed the idea of a nine- or 11-member committee that would include three public-safety officials and general-public representation. “We’re going to have to have three people from the public,” said Morse.

            Ciaburri and Eldridge both believe that the committee’s direction comes before assembling its members. “We need to find out what the scope is,” said Ciaburri. Eldridge noted that should the plan’s scope change, then it could affect committee members’ interest, especially among police officers whose facility may or may not be affected by what the committee pursues.

            “The more people you have, the harder it gets … better to have some quality than quantity,” suggested Szyndlar.

            Daniel suggested soliciting interest from townspeople who do not work for Rochester but bring relevant areas of expertise to the discussion.

            Morse suggested using the next Select Board meeting to further discuss the matter with prospective committee members and said he would talk to Police Chief Robert Small.

            Hartley said further talks would be prudent with a decision a month or two away.

            In unveiling two preliminary drawings for the rerouting of traffic away from Constitution Way, the private way that runs along the front of Town Hall and the two buildings owned by First Congregational Church before turning 90 degrees toward Plumb Corner and running past the public library, Eldridge said either plan would send traffic behind Town Hall, and all employee parking would be out back.

            The choice to be made is between two entry points 50 feet apart.

            Either option would send eastbound vehicles coming off Route 105 into a hard, right turn, thereby bringing an end to the usage of Constitution Way as a high-speed exit ramp. There is no buffer between the front steps of the buildings, and people exiting Town Hall have experienced close calls with traffic.

            Minor options include concrete or asphalt sidewalks, raised curbing or, if asphalt, a berm. The concrete raised sidewalk would be more user friendly, take more work and cost more money. Daniel noted that a raised concrete sidewalk would also be ADA compliant and called that option a “no brainer.” Either model would get rumble strips for vehicles.

            Morse said the next step would be an engineer’s drawing and a survey to “get the grades right (and) take care of all the water.”

            Eldridge advised town officials to examine the two models and formulate questions.

            If the feasibility studies carry at Spring Town Meeting, voters will be asked to decide on a proposed construction funding at a special town meeting in the fall.

            Eldridge also addressed the subject of trash. Rochester has trash and recycling and distributes stickers for residents to use Marion’s Transfer Station at the end of Benson Brook Road off Route 6.

            Morse noted that, while Marion handles household waste, Rochester lacks a place for residents to drop off items like furniture and metals.

            “I personally feel that the biggest issue in this town is trash,” said Eldridge, referencing televisions as an example. “We pay to get rid of it. We don’t charge, I refuse to take the money. … Our issue is to have a place to dispose of it. I’m not reinventing the wheel.”

            ABC does not collect such items.

            In other reports, Health Director Karen Walega said the town had 18 Covid cases and told the Select Board that Old Rochester Regional schools will lift the mask mandate on February 28.

            Weigel reported that Rochester Fire Department will receive $14,200 in grant funding earmarked for a new ambulance.

Rochester Public Safety Committee/Select Board

By Mick Colageo

Leave A Comment...