The West Tisbury committee charged with finding locations for a new police station presented its top choices and the reasoning behind them, at a public forum Tuesday before a sparse crowd of mostly public officials.
The committee has recommended the public safety building /fire station on State Road as the top choice. For the most part, those who attended the forum said consolidating fire and police operations in one location is a good idea.
The small fire station by a ball field on Edgartown-West Tisbury Road was a second choice by the committee that included chairman Susan Wasserman, Norman Perry, chairman of the town personnel committee, police Chief Dan Rossi, town emergency management director John Christensen, as well as former police chief Beth Toomey, who did not attend the forum at the Howes House.
“We were charged with planning for the next twenty years. But it is planning and siting. We are not a building committee,” Ms. Wasserman said.
The audience of nine included selectmen Richard Knabel, Cynthia Mitchell and Jeffrey Manter as well as fire Chief Manuel Estrella, town treasurer Kathy Logue and Robert and Barbara Day.
Committee members explained the site selection process that included a space needs analysis, the evaluation of facility options, and multiple site visits to existing police stations and available property.
Mr. Perry said that the current 800-square foot police station adjacent to Mill Pond is flawed. “It is a seriously inadequate space,” he said. “It is not in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it is not in compliance with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), it is not in compliance with building codes, it is not in compliance with federal and state laws.”
Police Chief Rossi said that within 20 years he expects the department to have grown from the current nine full-time officers to 11 or 12, as well as two or three summer officers, and be providing 24-hour coverage. He said that according to data provided by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the year-round population of West Tisbury is expected to grow by 23 percent, from 2,261 to 2,927 by the year 2029.
The committee said it developed nine criteria for property consideration. These included: high visibility, convenient for public access, accessible by public transit, near neighborhood stores and major traffic intersections, easy ingress and egress and ample parking for public and emergency vehicles.
Eleven town-owned sites as well as one private property were considered. Committee members visited four lots. Several sites were eliminated because the committee members concluded that the location was too remote, too isolated, not visible, or having access issues.
Mr. Christensen said that the committee’s visit to the police station in Harwich was helpful. “The police chief there takes the position that 95 percent of the people who visit a police station are law-abiding citizens, and their paths do not want to cross with miscreants — people who have been apprehended. If you have someone who is a victim of domestic abuse, they don’t want their business broadcast to the whole town. Even where they park is important.” Although he said that the building committee will have to tackle the design, the planning and site committee also considered these issues.
Fire Chief Estrella favored the top choice. “I think it is a great spot myself,” he said.
Ms. Wasserman thanked Mr. Estrella for his support. “He was very welcoming about the idea that there will be some disruption if construction happens at station number two,” she said. “But I guess we all felt that the end result will be worth it.”
According to the committee report, the new station requires 2,821 square feet of office space including locker rooms, showers, and space for weapons storage. A sleep center (100-square feet), a fitness center (225-square feet) and a combined briefing, training, and conference room (256-square feet) would be shared with the fire department and ambulance service.
An additional 1,513-square feet are required for garage, stairwells, elevator and heating and cooling systems. The total projected square footage required is 4,331-square feet.
Ms. Logue asked the committee how many functions within the 4,331 square feet may already exist and how the police could share existing space with the fire department in the public safety building. A kitchen/break room and a conference room totaling 376-square feet are already on site, according to Chief Rossi and Mr. Christensen.
“The co-habitation, the advantage of that, is much more as a result of this new building being attached than it is saving on square footage that would not have to be built,” Ms. Wasserman said.
Barbara Day said, “I would think that the majority of townspeople would be extremely happy to think that the police and fire departments were willing to share space and work together. I think that is wonderful, wonderful.”
Selectman Mitchell asked why a sleep center was required.
Chief Rossi said, “There are times when we have had people sleeping on cots in the fire station bay during storms, hurricanes — that type of thing. That room too could be a multi-use room and for the EMTs, who at some point are going to be on 24/7, they could use that sleep center as well.”
Mr. Perry explained the need for a fitness center. “Any police department that is being constructed today has a fitness center,” he said. “You have to have a fitness center. People can work out and keep in shape. The healthier they are, the better they are, the less sick time you save money.”
Mr. Perry said police, firefighters and EMTs could use the fitness center at all hours. “We kinda get a lot of bangs for our bucks on this one,” he said.
Asked by The Times if in its final report the committee will offer the selectmen a staging approach to development of the station so that it could be built out over time rather than all at once, Ms. Wasserman said that issue was discussed at great length.
“There must be provisions, it must be a well thought out plan so that the provisions are in the foundation and in the building so that the expansions that are needed can be made. It needs to be cost-effective.”
Mr. Christensen said,” We cannot recommend a site that is too small. Whether the town wants to build it …we could not in good faith recommend a site that is too small.”
Ms. Logue said, “You don’t want to be building half of it and paying for that for 20 years and getting eight years down the road and having to regroup already. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Selectman chairman Knabel thanked the committee for its work. “Clearly you covered all of your bases,” he said.
Ms. Mitchell said that once the committee’s report is accepted by the selectmen, the next step will be to appoint a design and building committee.
Mr. Manter said that funds will need to be appropriated through a vote at town meeting to create a budget for that committee. Ms. Wasserman said that the planning and site committee spent $675 of its $15,000 budget.
There is a two-week public comment period. Residents may find the report and post comments on the town website (westtisbury-ma.gov) or contact committee members. The committee will prepare its final report and appear before the selectmen in early February.