Amherst identifies spots for new Fire Department headquarters, DPW facility  

  • Amherst Town Hall. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, July 04, 2019

AMHERST — After three years of looking into the feasibility of a new Fire Department headquarters and a new Department of Public Works facility, the town has identified two potential sites for the planned buildings.

The DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee, which started in 2016, has zeroed in on the site of the current DPW building at 586 S. Pleasant St. for a new fire station, along with a 27-acre parcel of land on South East Street north of Stanley Street and Tamarack Drive as a site for a new DPW building.

Though the town already owns the land under the DPW building, the South East Street plot is currently owned by Amherst College. But the school recently conveyed to the town that it would offer the plot of land as part of a 99-year lease for $1 if plans to build new facilities move forward.

“It’s a standing offer,” said David Ziomek, assistant town manager and director of conservation and development. “They gave us the opportunity to explore the feasibility of the site.”

According to a 2016 study commissioned by the committee, an estimated $11-13 million would be needed for the construction of a 22,000-square-foot fire station. An additional $38 million was estimated for a 79,000-square-foot DPW facility to be built on the location of the Fort River School — though this is no longer a potential site.

The town has been aware of the need for a brand-new fire station and DPW building for a while, Ziomek said, calling both current buildings “woefully inadequate.” According to a July 2 statement from the town of Amherst, garage bays at the Central Fire Station at 68 N. Pleasant St. do not meet the space requirements for modern fire and ambulance equipment, among other concerns.

Ziomek said the town had been studying fire and EMS response times in Amherst for the past 10 to 15 years. Though the department has another fire station at 603 E. Pleasant St., the committee determined the south part of town to be the best spot for a new central station, Ziomek said.

A location there could potentially improve the fire department’s response time, he said. According to the town’s July 2 statement, East Amherst was not scouted for a location since fire equipment cannot fit beneath the train trestles on South East Street.

Furthermore, Amherst has never built a designated DPW building, instead opting to retrofit an abandoned trolley barn to house the department, Ziomek said. The current DPW building would be demolished and replaced with a new fire station, he said.

Town Council President Lynn Griesemer said she was “delighted” to hear the town is exploring a site for a new fire station on South East Street, as she served as chairwoman of the committee.

“This is a serious opportunity,” she said.

Griesemer said the Town Council would next have to approve borrowing to commission new schematics and designs for potential buildings on these sites. The new buildings would have to now also abide by the town’s zero-energy bylaw, she said.

“Those site designs will be critically important because that will give us the opportunity to see what the real cost would be,” Griesemer said.

Along with talk regarding a potential new elementary school and possible renovation of Jones Library, these two new capital projects would be expensive, she said. To pay for all four of these projects, a discussion around a tax override is likely, she said.

“We need to, at some point, go out to a vote for about two of the total four,” she said.

In the meantime, Griesemer said she hopes people will take advantage of upcoming meetings regarding the potential projects. Ziomek said that town officials have already begun the process of notifying land abutters and neighbors in the area.

“We’re really focused on meeting with the neighbors,” he said.

Two general meetings hosted by Griesemer and District 2 Councilor Pat De Angelis are planned for this month, and members of the public are welcomed to attend. The meetings will be held on July 8 and 23 at 6 p.m. in the Fort River School Cafeteria.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.