The Town Properties Committee met on Wednesday, August 18. It was a joint meeting with the Plympton Selectmen. Members of the Plympton Finance Committee were also in attendance.
“The Town Properties Committee has spent the last year plus working on sort of a vision overall for the campus,” Chair of the Town Properties Committee Jon Wilhelmsen told those assembled. One of the main objectives for that campus plan is figuring out the placement of the new fire station. Wilhelmsen shared what he referred to as a “high level, notional drawing of the grand plan if we are able to put that in place.” The new, proposed fire station would be behind the new police station on Palmer Rd. The drawing also showed a proposed fix for the parking area for the library and Townhouse. He said the main entrance would convert from two to one driveway. Wilhelmsen said the existing fire station would remain and over time be converted into a community center that would include the Council on Aging (COA). Regarding the ball fields, Wilhelmsen said they are looking into doing some work to Harry Jason Park that involves working with both PAYS and the Recreation Committee on a long-term plan.
The new fire station was described as being a 3-bay, drive through, modern facility that would provide an appropriate space to house, maintain, and provide for a number of things. Those things include the safety and security of fire personnel and visitors, apparatus, supplies and gear, administrative and personnel space, and community interaction. Included in that community interaction would be a space to be used as a public medical room where vaccines and other medical services could be rendered. The hope would be to also have a public conference space that could be utilized for many things including a public cooling/warming area.
Also addressed within the meeting was the why behind the building of a new fire station. The current building is non-compliant with current OSHA regulations and poses physical and occupational safety concerns due to significant space and facility constraints. Fire Chief Stephen Silva pointed out that while previously they were not, the State is now mandated to be OSHA compliant. He said that regulations specific to carcinogens off gassing from gear have changed greatly since the building was first built. Supply management challenges also exist as supplies are spread across four different buildings, containers, and trailers across three different locations in town. “You’ve entrusted me with millions of dollars of equipment that we cannot properly house and that is just not right,” Silva said.
The timeline was also discussed with architect selection, programmatic and schematic design, infrastructure assessment, and cost estimates outlined to occur between October 2020 and April 2021. Final design, bidding, construction, and occupancy is tentatively scheduled between July 2021 and December 2022.
Regarding cost, Wilhelmsen said the goal would be to utilize existing funds and said they were not intending to do an override. The hope would be to use modular construction and/or leverage existing design plans. The town would also hope to take advantage of lower interest rates and intends to limit the impact of future increases in building costs. Plympton may also be able to potentially take advantage of Federal infrastructure funds with the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The total project cost is estimated at $6 million.
Selectman and Town Properties Committee member John Traynor said that the Committee has had two financial team meetings the most recent being that morning with the Town Administrator, the Town Accountant, the Town Treasurer, and the Assessor. Traynor said that as of June the amount in the Capital Stabilization Fund was $1,078,800. A Mass Municipal Depository Trust (MMDT) was established in 1996 and has never been used. The MMDT currently stands at $207,600. There is $803,500 in the Regular Stabilization Fund. The use of the funds must be approved by a two-thirds majority at town meeting.
“If we were to take a 30-year bond for $6 million at current interest rates it would give us a bond repayment each year of $324,000,” Traynor said regarding the new fire station costs. The current police station debt is set to run through 2040. “We’re in pretty good shape financially. The question is can we do a fire station that we can do and still have money left over because we know there will be things like new roofs and other issues we’re going to have to address as we go through the years,” he explained. Selectmen Chair Christine Joy asked, “So you’re saying that based on the $6 million number that we would be able to afford this just on the additional monies we’re getting for Capital Stabilization; we wouldn’t have to dive into it; it would basically just be self-sustaining from what we’re taking in?” Traynor confirmed that understanding was correct.
Joy asked about whether the Assessor had been brought into the conversation regarding the incoming funds into Capital Stabilization. “If they were to go down significantly, we could get ourselves into a pickle,” Joy pointed out. Traynor said they had, noting, “In fact, Sysco is currently assisting at $52 million… and they upped it to… over $60 million.” He did note that some of that would be abated but said that there should be an uptick, if anything. “One of the things that is troubling to the Finance Committee from time to time is there’s no guarantee that Sysco will be there in twenty years,” Chair of the Finance Committee Nathaniel Sides said. “But somebody’s going to be there Nate,” Traynor said. Sides insisted that you can’t know that and pointed to plenty of empty buildings up and down the East Coast. Silva countered saying, “We are the fastest section of the State of Massachusetts that is growing – the South Shore and the South Coast area and Massachusetts is one of the fastest growing economies nationwide despite everything that is going on.” Traynor furthered that all they were looking for at the moment was the go ahead to move forward with a feasibility study. The money for the study would have to be approved at special town meeting.
Joy said that she would rather see something like this handled as part of the annual town meeting rather than as part of a special. Wilhelmsen said the push to put it as part of the special had to do with concerns over price increases. Town Properties Committee member Ross MacPherson said, “What I’m seeing in construction right now is, forgetting the COVID related things, we are seeing a ton of money come into the infrastructure space and that is just going to tap the existing resources and like we had with the police station, what we really need to find is the contractor that needs this project more than would like to have this contract… if we wait too long, we may not have a bid that we can take.” He further said that while material prices are starting to level off, labor prices are increasing. Town Administrator Liz Dennehy added that if they at least had a design in the works sooner rather than later they may be able to at least partially fund a new septic system with ARPA funds. “There is kind of a larger scale benefit to having some of this feasibility and design work done and out of the way,” she explained.
“This is kind of ten years in the making, I have sat in on the various permutations… I think we’ve kind of been spinning our wheels. We know that sooner or later we’re going to have to do something with the fire station. I’m in favor of moving ahead with this,” Selectman Mark Russo said. He continued, “We are gaining nothing by just sitting and waiting.” He called it “amazing” that it could potentially be possible to build a new police station and a new fire station in such a short amount of time without increasing the tax rate. “I think we have to make clear that this is not committing to a new station; it is committing to spending some money to see if this will work,” Russo said.
MacPherson took a moment to address why the option of rehabbing the current station was not being explored. He said there are always unknowns when rehabbing and said that the town would have to commit to those. He also noted that the Fire Department would have to be moved elsewhere for the duration of the construction.
Joy made a motion that the Selectmen support the efforts of the Town Properties Committee in committing to a feasibility study on a new fire station. The Selectmen voted unanimously to approve the motion.
Following the discussion on the Fire Station, the Committee then turned their attention to the Harry Jason Park. MacPherson said he met with Plympton Athletic Youth Sports (PAYS) who expressed to him some general needs and wants. “They thought that having everything centralized at Harry Jason was a great end goal,” he said. MacPherson told the Committee that currently U-10 and U-12 share a soccer field at the Dennett that has to be striped differently depending on which age level is utilizing it. He also said that the youngest players are using the outfield of the baseball/softball field for their games. When asked what they would like to have in a perfect world, PAYS said they would like to have a major/minor league field, a larger sized little league field, a U-14 size soccer field that would also serve U-12, and a second soccer field for the U-8 and U-10. MacPherson said he believed there could be some repurposing done as well as some tweaks to the fields at the Dennett. Wilhelmsen pointed out that any new fields would require bringing in electricity and water. Colleen Thompson asked about the possibility of incorporating some adult facilities such as tennis courts at the park. “I think that there can be, in the grand plan of Harry Jason, some better walking trails or things that can be utilized,” MacPherson said. He said that since PAYS is youth related, the Recreation Committee would have to work with them on adult uses.