At its meeting on Monday evening, Aug. 20, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) held a discussion about the status of a project under consideration to renovate Fire Station 2, the 60-year-old satellite firehouse on Ridgefield Rd. in north Wilton. As first selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice explained, the BOS wanted to discuss whether the project’s original Statement of Requirements (SOR) that had been approved in August 2015 had changed–and how that could impact the scope of what’s been proposed by the Fire Station 2 Building Committee.

“It isn’t a question of whether or not we’re going to do work on the building, because we all know that is needed; but it is a question as to the scope of that work,” she said. “There have been a number of things that have changed since we embarked on this project.”

In her opening remarks, Vanderslice acknowledged how much work, time and though both the Fire Commission and the Building Committee have done to date. They presented the BOS with recommendations on Jan. 8, 2018 that were based on the original 2015 Statement of Requirements. The Building Committee started its work in April 2016.

Only one of the current members of the Board of Selectmen–Deb McFadden–was on the BOS at the time the Statement of Requirements was written and approved. The other four BOS members–Vanderslice, Dave Clune, Lori Bufano and Josh Cole–were not part of the decision-making at the time.

Vanderslice listed several changes since 2015 that she said might have impact on the project:

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  • an increase in the number and scope of other capital projects being pursued by the town, including renovation of the Police Station, Town Hall and Town Annex buildings
  • that the economy has not improved, and that there is uncertainty with how current tax law changes will impact Wilton taxpayers
  • some of the assumptions that were originally presented assumed population growth, but population seems to have decreased since the last census and is projected to continue to decrease

“It’s one of a number of projects that we as a Board of Selectmen need to address and we have limited funds,” she said.

She also pointed to one of the recent public opinion surveys conducted as part of the town’s 2029 Plan of Conservation and Development effort, which indicated that respondents were “lukewarm” in their support of improving municipal buildings. “There were only 20% that said that the condition and appearance and functioning of municipal was very important, and 40% said it was somewhat important. That’s what we’re up against.”

The original Statement of Requirements spelled out what officials identified at the time as needs:  upgrading building infrastructure; raising the roof and enlarging engine bay doors to accommodate larger fire vehicles; providing potable water; and increasing living facilities to accommodate more than the current number of firefighters (two) who staff that station.

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Vanderslice said that since then, not only has a solution for finding potable water been found and is being pursued, but that officials have learned that fire vehicles can be custom ordered, which raises the question about whether or not the roof and bay doors need to be adjusted. In addition, fire officials identified only eight nights that more than two firefighters are required to be at Fire Station 2, “which raises the question of whether or not the requirement of expansion is appropriate.”

Can the Trucks Fit?

Fire Commission chair Casey Healy, Fire Chief Ron Kanterman, and the selectmen held prolonged discussion about the size of fire trucks that could be accommodated, how many gallons of water they need to be able to carry to adequately respond to any incidents in north Wilton. While Kanterman said that in order to increase the size of the engine bay doors, the roof would have to also be raised because there wasn’t enough room otherwise.

Vanderslice called on the town’s facilities director, Chris Burney, to address that. Earlier Burney had arranged to open up the sheetrock above the bay doors to look at the building’s framing–something he said hadn’t been done when the statement of requirements were originally completed. Based on what he saw, he said adjustments could likely be made without changing the roofline or the sheetrock ceiling in the garage.

“We’re looking at a matter of inches. I can’t get four inches, but the way the doors are, without taking the ceiling out, I think I could probably get two, maybe three inches, redoing the door frame,” he said, adding, “All the discussion I hear is that we maybe are short two or three inches. I’d like to take another look with a structural engineer, but I think I could do it.”

Building committee chair Rich McCarty said he was “astounded” by the suggestion that his committee didn’t look at options for the garage bay door height. “We had engineers look at the door height and we had architects look at the door height.” He also noted that one of the four different recommendations they presented in January included a modified option like the one Burney described.

McCarty said he was feeling defensive about the evening’s discussion, and that he was surprised to hear comments that no one had looked at the door height. He also explained that  told the BOS that his committee “is bound”  to follow the Statement of Requirements.

“We cannot willy-nilly change, that is not within our prerogative. We take the SOR that the BOS gives to us, to evaluate. We cannot go back to amend them as we see fit. Frankly we gave a recommendation that is in here, and if you look at it, it’s almost right on budget. It’s just a little over a million dollars with a $50,000 contingency for storing the apparatus and a contingency for gosh knows what we’re going to find.”

He also said that even with a projected population decline, it wouldn’t decrease the level of fire hazard, and that public safety need would stay high and even potentially increase at the schools, at new commercial developments the town is seeking (e.g. new assisted living operations), and elsewhere. That safety, he argued, would be impacted if the town didn’t plan to accommodate a potential for more personnel at the north Wilton station.

Vanderslice answered that by saying the bulk of the public safety needs McCarty pointed to existed in the parts of Wilton served by the main fire station at Town Hall, not north Wilton. She said no data indicated a population change in north Wilton, and the likelihood of needing more firefighters at Fire Station 2 was low.

“That whole thing where it says four people with the possibility of two more–does that make any sense? Why did we put in six when we’re not even four.”

Healy also said that, while he’d like to see the number of firefighters per shift increase from six to eight, it is highly unlikely that will happen due to the high cost and town budgetary needs. When Vanderslice asked what his preference would be for locating additional personnel if it every could be budgeted for, Healy answered for himself rather than the whole commission when he said he’d prefer more firefighters at fire headquarters rather than at Fire Station 2.

Vanderslice agreed that the committee did follow the original SOR in putting its recommendations together. “That’s why we’re looking at them again, based on the information you provided us with what the committee learned, it seems like the BOS needs to rethink [the SOR]. That’s why we’re doing this.”

More Analysis Needed

But, she noted that during a meeting which took place in February–after the recommendations had been made–that architect Rob Sanders estimated the cost differential between the plan to raise the roof and the plan to avoid raising the roof was $700,000.

She said more analysis and comparison needs to be done on a precise cost differential between the two plans, as well as on what options the town has for purchasing trucks that fit in the current building–and at what cost.

If these changes can be accommodated the town stands to save significantly, according to Vanderslice.

“It’s not going to be a million dollars; it’s going to be something significantly less that a million. It’s probably going to be more than half-a-million, but it’s not going to be $1 million, and that’s a number I think we need,” she said.

Originally, the Fire Station 2 Building Committee considered four plans and made its recommendation from those; Fire Commission chair Healy answered a question posed by selectwomanMcFadden, telling her that the Fire Commission hadn’t yet endorsed a plan. His fellow commissioner, Chris Weldon, agreed that with the changes in the town, the BOS should revisit the SOR. “Give the ability to that Building Committee to make adjustments to fit within the confines of what we can afford and what we were looking to do originally. That’s why we didn’t make a recommendation because we believe coming here tonight, that the BOS was going to redefine what the Building Committee could do, so we could get something we thought we could recommend.”

Fire commissioner Ross Tartell reminded the selectmen that no matter what re-examination of the project needs to be done, it has to be completed by May 2019, when the issue will be brought to the next Annual Town Meeting.

Vanderslice was very mindful of that fact. She concluded the discussion by acknowledging how frustrating it must be for the Building Committee members to be asked to reassess its recommendations, but that it was important to have as cost-effective–and vetted–a proposal as possible.

“We don’t want to get to the Town Meeting and get a ‘no’ vote,” she said.

In a statement after the meeting, Vanderslice reiterated the rationale for asking the Building Committee to seek more information to re-evaluate–and potentially scale back–its recommendations:

All of our municipal buildings are in need of infrastructure work including, but not limited, to roof, HVAC and window replacements, electrical upgrades, hazardous material removal and ADA compliance. Police Headquarters, having been built for 27 males, is undersized for a department of 44 male and female officers.

“The Board of Selectmen’s role is to look critically and prioritize those needs.  

“The statement of requirements for Fire Station 2 has long included the need to raise the roof.  If it turns out that that is no longer the case, then great as the leaky Town Hall roof needs replacing.  If Fire Station 2 no longer needs to be expanded because the staff isn’t expanding, then great again, as Police Headquarters needs an expansion for the staff that is currently here.

“The Board of Selectmen members are aware that upgrades to municipal buildings are not a priority for many residents. We are careful to make sure we only recommend expenditures that are necessary to ensure a safe and appropriate workplace for our employees.”