Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

May 15, 2014

Ballardvale station wins reprieve; Firehouse expansion faces tough road ahead

Voters approve land purchase, design plans

By Bill Kirk

---- — The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details.

So it is with the approval by Town Meeting voters of two warrant articles calling for the expansion and renovation of the historic Ballardvale Fire Station at Clark Road and Andover Street.

The first article calls for spending $200,000 to purchase 8,000 square feet from two properties adjacent to the station.

The second article earmarks another $200,000 for design plans for an expansion and modernization of the station — on that purchased property.

“We are going to move forward and do our due diligence and support the wishes of those who voted at Town Meeting on both warrant articles,” said fire Chief Mike Mansfield, who was one of many town officials opposed to both articles. “But the town has to go through several steps in the process.”

First is to determine fair market value for the two properties versus what Town Meeting appropriated, he said.

Even former town manager Richard Bowen, the Ballardvale resident who proposed the fire station articles, admits there is much work to be done.

Bowen agreed with Mansfield that both properties need to be appraised to determine their purchase value.

“The footprint of the addition has to be laid out,” he said. “After that’s done, we can survey the abutting properties and determine just how much we really need. If that can be done quickly, that means a greater possibility of getting the fire station completed by the summer of next year.”

The 8,000 square feet of property is owned by two different people, so negotiations would have to be conducted with both. But Bowen noted, “We have talked to both of them.”

One of the abutters stood up at Town Meeting and said she would let the town have her property.

If it turns out Town Meeting did set aside enough money for the purchase of the properties, the next step would be to complete designs and specifications for the addition.

Mansfield said the $200,000 OK’d by Town Meeting “was not a lot and may be too low to get all the work the proponents want to get done.”

He said as with any project, the town would develop Requests for Proposals, then see what the bids for the project bring.

“If you look at some of the other projects in town, the cost of design schematics and engineering, it gets pretty expensive,” Mansfield said.

Bowen said there is an alternative that also needs to be considered.

The town recently commissioned an engineering study of the building, which determined the structure to be “adequate.”

The study recommended about $350,000 in improvements to the building, which is “money we don’t have,” Bowen said.

“My hope was that we could have a firm figure on internal improvements to the building and then have a special Town Meeting this fall to obtain funding for building improvements,” he said. “There are a lot of things we don’t know, such as what improvements can we do to the building while it’s being used.”

The fact that the town is considering the changes at all is music to the ears of Ballardvale station supporters, who fought unsuccessfully at Town Meeting last year for improvements to the old station.

This year, Bowen’s proposals were opposed by every town board and commission as well as the town manager and fire chief. But with a more streamlined approach and a wider base of support in his favor, the proponents succeeded in convincing Town Meeting to go their way.

“There were honest differences of opinion,” Bowen said. “But ... Town Meeting has made the decision, and it’s now incumbent upon whoever to see to it that that decision is carried out.”

Bowen said he would be meeting with Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski and the fire chief in the coming weeks to hash out the next step in the process.

“I expect the full cooperation of everybody,” Bowen said. “But the fact of the matter is, this project is now in the town manager’s hands. By charter, he is responsible for all public building construction — schools and town facilities. I assume he might be thinking of appointing a building committee.”

Stapczynski said he may not create a building committee just for the architectural study, but added, “I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

“We’ll see what the study comes up with,” he said. “I’ve got to think this thing through.”