Deerfield Academy says it would pay $400K to build regional EMS home next to fire station

  • David Zamojski and Gary Ponce, paramedics with South County EMS, check the equipment and drug inventory of one of their ambulances at the South Deerfield Fire Department. Recorder File Photo/Matt Burkhartt

  • The Whately town office building at 4 Sandy Lane. Recorder File Photo/Andy Castillo

  • South Deerfield Fire Station. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo Recorder Staff—Andy Castillo

  • South Deerfield Fire Station. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo Recorder Staff—Andy Castillo

For the Gazette
Friday, November 25, 2016

DEERFIELD — Deerfield Academy has agreed to pay about $400,000 for a proposed building that could permanently house South County EMS in Deerfield.

That would provide a home base in Deerfield, something the town’s leaders have sought for months, which would remove the possibility of Whately leasing space in its town office at 4 Sandy Lane to the EMS.

On Monday, academy spokesman David Theil confirmed the prep school intends to “build the building, and gift it to the town.” Theil said the building was designed and proposed by Selectman Henry “Kip” Komosa — who’s also on the South County EMS Board of Oversight — on town-owned land next to the fire station.

“It’s a relatively straight-forward process,” Theil said about the board of trustees’ charitable decision. “As with anything, it takes us time to consider and investigate and plan, and respond to things. We’re delighted to make this gift to the town, and we continue to try and be a good neighbor.”

Whately Select Board Chairman Paul Newlin said, “I look forward to maintaining our emergency medical service in a way that provides the best service, quickest response times, and lowest cost to residents of the three towns.”

The school’s gift comes after about 18 months of contention and debate about the location of the tri-town ambulance’s home base. Currently, the organization has ambulances temporarily housed at emergency response facilities throughout the three towns, including Sunderland, Whately and South Deerfield’s fire departments.

“To have this donation is absolutely fabulous, and we’re thrilled,” Board of Oversight member and Deerfield Select Board Chairwoman Carolyn Shores Ness said, noting that from an efficiency, logistical and financial perspective “this is a real boost to have it all under one roof.”

If the ambulance service’s Board of Oversight agrees to move into the building — the next step in the process — the town of Deerfield will receive rent money. Komosa said “rent is going to stay the same, $36,000 per year,” or about $3,000 per month. At least some of that money will go into a fund specifically to maintain the building.

The Whately proposition would include a roughly $400,000 bill to renovate the office space, in addition to monthly rent, paid out over about 10 years of a 20-year lease. Monetary details haven’t been entirely negotiated.

The Deerfield building was first proposed in July by Komosa as an alternative to space in the Whately Town Office building, which has been considered by the ambulance’s oversight board as a possible facility since the organization was created in 2013. Komosa’s proposal outlines a 3,600-square-foot, wood-frame building on a town-owned parcel about 60 feet north of the South Deerfield fire station parking lot.

Komosa’s preliminary design includes two bathrooms, garage space, room for office space and options for future expansion.

Years of contention

Before Deerfield Academy’s announcement, while acting as Select Board chairwoman, Shores Ness expressed an intent to move the project forward regardless of the school’s decision — potentially asking town taxpayers fund it. Regarding the proposed gift, she noted that “John Paciorek started this years ago.”

In opposition to Deerfield’s intentions, there’s been intense and at-times heated debate at ambulance board meetings over the past months regarding which proposal is best — Whately’s office space or Deerfield’s proposal.

EMS Director Zach Smith said both locations would adequately provide coverage to the region.

Board of Oversight member and Whately Selectman Jonathan Edwards argued that, last year, the board voted to pursue singular negotiations for Whately’s space but never moved past discussions. More recently this year, following a request for proposals, the board again agreed to begin negotiations with Whately.

Others, including Komosa, have countered that because an estimated $400,000 is needed to create EMS space in the former regional library building, regardless of past votes, Deerfield’s proposal is ultimately cheaper — about $36,000 per year — roughly half as much as Whately’s proposal. When asked if Deerfield Academy would fund renovating Whately’s office space, Theil said “we had a request from the town of Deerfield, and that was the scope that was considered.”

During a Nov. 17 Board of Oversight meeting, Komosa said his proposal is “a better deal for everyone involved.” Currently, Deerfield pays 52 percent of the ambulance’s monthly operating budget; Whately and Sunderland combined pay the other 48 percent. The service covers about 70 square miles and more than 10,000 residents in all three towns, with a response time around seven minutes.

Ness said the academy’s gift provides the service with an opportunity to move forward. She noted the town’s lawyers have looked over the plan and have agreed that everything is in order.

The chairwoman said the academy is “willing to meet with Zach and anyone else who wants input — to come up with a building as soon as possible, I hope.”

She said Komosa’s design will probably be changed to accommodate the service’s needs. She noted, however, that “it probably wouldn’t have happened if Kip Komosa hadn’t used his time to design the building and cost it out.”

“I’d like to put our current negotiating team to discussing this,” said Thomas Fydenkevez, Board of Oversight vice chairman who’s also on the Sunderland Select Board, adding “hopefully we can schedule this in the next month.”