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Another project that came up for some discussion was the plan for a new headquarters fire station, which is also not scheduled for action at the May town meeting.

Selectman Richard Antanavica said the fire station survey committee has decided that the property at 1122 Main Street, which the town agreed to accept at the last annual meeting would be the best site for the station because of its access to Route 9 and because members believe the structure could be put up far more inexpensively than the $4.5 million predicted when the subject first came up.

A decision on when to go further would not be made until actual construction figures are available and decisions made on how the project would be financed.

This would be the first headquarters station the town has ever put up, he said. The Rochdale and Cherry Valley stations were built from scratch, but the headquarters station in Leicester Center was given to the town when the motorized fire vehicles were acquired in 1920.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Town ready to act on space issues

By Betty Lilyestrom CORRESPONDENT
[email protected]
LEICESTER— Town officials have been talking for years about finding a solution to the inadequate space in and around the Company 1 fire station in Leicester Center,

And for almost as long, they have been talking about moving the central offices of the School Department into an existing town building, freeing the department’s current headquarters on Main Street for sale or lease.

This week, selectmen decided it’s time to stop talking and start doing something concrete about both situations.

Town Administrator Robert Reed said groups have been working quietly in both areas, looking at sites and putting together wish lists of features they would like to see incorporated into new locations.

Selectmen, at their meeting Monday night, said it’s time to move on to the next step, turning the wish lists into formal proposals and get funding to develop concrete plans for one or both projects.

Moving the School Department offices may be the easier task to accomplish, since the space is available on the top floor of the Town Hall and is not being used. The biggest hurdle, selectmen said, would be making the area handicapped-accessible, something that would probably entail installation of an elevator.

The committee that arranged the installation of other municipal offices on the lower and ground level floors of the rear section of the Town Hall, which formerly housed the Center School, has already done some study on where in the Town Hall an elevator could be located. Still to be determined is how much the elevator would cost.

The lower floor in the former school building and the main floor of the entire Town Hall are handicapped-accessible by ramps from the outside but the only access between the two floors inside the building is via stairways. There is also no direct access between the upper floors of the two sections of the building.

Overcoming the problems hampering the Company 1 fire station are more complex, selectmen said. The station, on Water Street in the center of town, is hemmed in by houses and has no room for expansion.

Selectman Richard Antanavica said there is not enough room in the structure for all needed equipment, so some of it is stored outside. And the parking space is extremely limited, which causes serious congestion problems for the company’s call firefighters when they rush to the station in response to an alarm.

The search for a possible site for a new station must also take into consideration that one of the main requirements would be to keep response time to a minimum.

Mr. Antanavica said the situation is also complicated by the fact that the station is the headquarters of the town’s ambulance department, which is under fire department control.

He said the facility should have sleeping quarters for the emergency medical personnel who sometimes need to stay overnight.

Selectman Thomas V. Brennan Jr. suggested the possibility of keeping the existing station and planning another, smaller facility close by to house some of the equipment and provide parking, but Mr. Antanavica rejected the idea.

“We need to stop nickel and diming about this department, which has a $200,000 budget that serves this town really well,” he said. “These people give of their time because they just want to do a good job, but we’re going to start losing them if we don’t give them something to do the job with.”

He said he thinks the proposal for a new station should be put to voters at a town meeting.

“If they decide it’s something we can’t afford and turn it down, then so be it,” he said.

The town administrator said selectmen could likely hear some initial plans for both projects at their next meeting, but the next step would involve getting voter approval for a more intensive professional study that would come up with costs and possible funding for the projects. He said his hope would be to have the vote on those projects at the 2009 town meeting.

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