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Building joint Salem public safety facility to be studied

SALEM — Next March, voters may get the chance to decide on funding a new joint public safety facility for the police and fire departments.

On Monday, Selectman James Keller presented a proposal for the construction of a new facility on the site of the current police station on Veterans Parkway.

The new facility would be about 45,000 square feet and would replace the current police station and the Central Fire Station on Main Street, both of which are almost 50 years old.Selectmen approved spending $65,000 from the town’s public safety impact fees for consultants to prepare a site plan, building footprint configuration and a fiscal plan with the cost and funding source for a potential project.

That information would be presented to selectmen by December, at which time the board would decide if it wants to move forward with a warrant article asking voters to approve the project.

Selectman Stephen Campbell cast the lone vote against the continued study. Campbell said that he had issues with the firms being selected already and not going out to bid as well as the town rushing into putting a multimillion dollar project before voters so soon.

“I think we are rushing if you think you are going to get people to support that kind of money,” said Campbell. He said he would rather see the town put the $65,000 for the early planning on this March’s ballot and then move forward with the larger proposal the following year.

Selectmen Chairman Pat Hargreaves said that if the project is not ready to go by December, the board is under no obligation to put a warrant article on the ballot.

The debate over the replacement of the public safety facilities has been ongoing for over a decade. Efforts to build a new police station failed at the ballot in 2003 and 2008.

On Monday, Keller said that he and Selectman Everett McBride began looking at options for a new public safety facility about 18 months ago. Keller said the police and fire facilities are outdated, out of code and in need of major repairs whether a new facility is built.

During the past efforts to build a new police station, a major stumbling block has been the location of a new building.

While the current police station sits on 15 acres, much of it is wetlands and unbuildable. As a result, the council may have to consider buying more land.

However, changes in state and federal wetlands regulations a year ago have opened up the possibility of building a joint safety complex on the police station land. Keller said several state and federal regulatory agencies have walked the Veterans Parkway parcel and given the initial OK to proceed with the plan.

Building a joint safety complex would also be cheaper than building two new facilities, according to Keller.

Chief among the savings would be the ability to use one dispatch center for the police and fire departments. A single building would also be easier to maintain and could include shared training and meeting rooms.

By moving the central fire station to Veterans Parkway, Keller said the town would also see the economic benefit of being able to sell the central fire station.

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