BRUNSWICK — The architect who drafted the plan for a proposed $13 million Central Fire Station detailed Monday night how it will better protect firefighters and provide more space to house first-responders.
After discussing a report from the Fire Station Task Force on Sept. 4 about the proposed replacement for Central Fire Station, councilors heard more about the project from architect Bob Mitchell of New York-based Mitchell Associates.
Brunswick has estimated the cost of the project would be about $9 million. With land acquisition fees, the total could be $15 million.
Earlier this month, Town Manager John Eldridge said a “large design fee” – estimated at $880,000 – and “contingencies” drove up the projected price.
The council will discuss the project, including how it could impact the property tax rate, again at its Oct. 1 meeting.
Eldridge said last week the committee working on the project has identified “several possible configurations on Pleasant Street” for the new station.
Plans to replace the 99-year-old building at Town Hall Place have been in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan for more than a decade. The Fire Department also operates out of Emerson Station at 284 Bath Road.
Mitchell said his firm only designs fire stations and combined public safety buildings that typically house police and fire departments.
He outlined his company’s goals for the new station, including emphasizing the safety and health of firefighters who will work in it.
Mitchell said he met with Fire Chief Ken Brillant over the course of three months to create a needs assessment, which was used to create the preliminary floor plan.
Mitchell, who called Central Fire Station a “hazardous building,” said cancer rates among people in the fire service have become a “catastrophic problem.” He noted not only exposure to toxins in the field, but also those in the station, contribute to the issue. Designing the building in a specific way, he said, is his company’s “contribution towards mitigating that problem.”
Mitchell said that within the proposed new fire station there will be “hot zones,” “cold zones” and “warm zones.” Hot zones are places in the building for highly toxic materials and substances that are attached to vehicles and equipment from emergency response scenes.
Warm zones are intermediate spaces, and cold zones are living spaces for responders.
In the proposed new building there is a room for decontaminating clothes worn at a fire scene, as well as a special machine to clean face masks, backpacks and air bottles.
There is also an area in the proposed new building for on-site training, a fill station for air bottles, a 60-person conference room, an additional laundry room, and 12 bunk rooms.
In response to a question from Councilor Stephen Walker about how the number of bunk rooms corresponds to a typical shift, Brillant said the department has a minimum of seven people working a shift, split between the two stations.
“When we have storm coverage … right now we have no capacity to bring anyone to Central Station because all the beds are used,” he said.
He also said the directive to the Fire Station Task Force was to design a station with a 75-year lifespan.
Councilors were in agreement for the need of the new station, but more than one questioned the scope of the proposal.
Councilor Suzan Wilson noted how much things can change over the years, including population rates, which could affect the number of firefighters in town.
“I think this is something councilors would be wrestling with generally,” she said. “Which is, how do you think about that expression ‘build for the future’ if we don’t exactly know which kind of future we might be talking about.”
Wilson also said though Brillant saw the proposed new building plan “many times” before it was brought before council Sept. 4, she and Chairman John Perrault saw it “at the 11th hour.”
Eldridge again questioned the high cost of designing the new building.
Mitchell responded by saying his company puts all of its time into the drawings and “the proof is in the pudding” with a history of few change orders.
Resident Jean Powers said the council needs to move forward.
“The longer you wait, the more it’s going to cost, the more upset the taxpayers are going to be,” she said.
Gary Ballerini, a resident who formerly taught fire-related topics, said, “I now have some very painful lung issues, and safety is paramount,” he said. “And so I believe the programming that they’ve gone through is important to protect the firefighter because it’s not a pleasant issue.”
Clark Labbe, former Brunswick fire chief, also made an argument for some of the proposed amenities, including the separate washing machines for gear.
“We do have those, the one at Central Station is adjacent to the kitchen, so all the dirty gear gets dragged down the stairs through the living space past the eating space, to be cleaned,” he said.
Eldridge said no one disputes the need for the new station, adding the town has people “in a deplorable situation” at this point.
“I do think that given the cost expectation and where we’re at, that we need to take a look at it to make sure we’re all comfortable,” he said. “The last thing you want to have happen is go out there and not get a station built this time.”
Brunswick’s Central Fire Station is in a 99-year-old building at Town Hall Place. Town councilors are contemplating a $13 million plan for a new station on Pleasant Street, which could ultimately cost the town $15 million with land acquisition costs.