By Dustin Luca
---- — The end is near for the seven-member Ballardvale Fire Station Building Committee as it embarks on its final mission — recommending two places to build a new fire station to service the Vale.
The committee of residents charged with recommending locations for a new Ballardvale Fire Station met last week to begin putting together its final report, expected to be buttoned up in about a month.
In the report, the group is expected to recommend two locations for a new station, which would replace the 120-year-old station on the corner of Andover Street and Clark Road.
Option one is to put it at the corner of Andover and Woburn streets, on property currently occupied by a baseball diamond that is part of the South Elementary School property. Town officials say it is the ideal site for the project even though there has historically been stiff neighborhood opposition.
Option two is a recently offered site on Reynolds Street, which includes a private lot that connects to Andover Street just down the road from South School.
But both locations come with problems.
The Reynolds Street property is saddled with a lengthy legal history as it is the site of a long-standing legal battle between property owners William and Gail Johnson and an abutting neighbor, state Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover.
When reached for comment, Lyons said he was aware that the site was being proposed as a home for Ballardvale Fire Station, but he declined further comment.
That legal battle, while it has been a factor in the Johnsons’ plans to build a single-family home at the site, “isn’t really germane to our decision” to recommend it as a place for a fire station, committee member Jim Curtis said at a recent meeting.
What is germane to the decision is the site’s details — it is flat, it already has utility access and it has had most of its trees cleared from the property already, according to Fire Chief Mike Mansfield.
One problem, however, is its location, as the driveway would be at the top of a hill and on a corner, which could create traffic challenges should a station be put there, the committee members contend.
To improve that situation, officials are considering the possibility of picking up land adjacent to the site, including two vacant lots currently in foreclosure and a small, single-family home at the front of the property, according to Mansfield.
Doing so would give the entire site an added 117 feet of frontage along Andover Street, according to a map of the proposal.
Putting that deal together would come with a price tag, however, as the purchase of all four pieces of land combined could cost the town about $750,000, the committee estimated at its meeting.
In the case of the South School site, prior discussions have suggested the town and School Department would swap land to relocate a baseball diamond that currently sits where the fire station is being proposed.
Since the location was first put in the public spotlight, neighbors and abutters to the school have been vocal opponents of using the site, pointing to concerns over safety and noise for the South School community.
In a way, that makes the Reynolds Street proposal more enticing, according to Curtis.
“Where it’s located — location, location, location — being halfway between South School and the existing fire station, is a real asset,” Curtis said. “It sort of balances the two. We don’t want to move it out of Ballardvale, but we want to get it up to the corner.”
Using a prior grading scale that took into account site size, dimensions, access to major roads and more, the committee gave the proposal a score of 21.5 out of 25, while the South School site was given a perfect 25 of 25 score when it was previously graded.
After discussing the Reynolds Street proposal, officials also heard an 11th-hour pitch for a site at 429 South Main St., presented by site co-owner David Deloury.
The committee gave the site poor marks — 17.5, mostly because of its location away from Ballardvale — after discussing it in detail.
The committee will meet at least two more times before submitting a final report, due before the end of the year.
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