Edgartown discusses potential joint public safety facility

With no plans yet in place, the select board heard from chiefs on possible building improvements.

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The fire and police departments floated the idea of a joint public safety building. -Abigail Rosen

At their Monday meeting, the Edgartown select board received an update from the fire station building committee regarding potential rebuilding of the town’s fire station. 

Edgartown Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer said the building committee has been working since June to identify and review deficiencies in the existing building, which had been highlighted in a 2019 feasibility study. 

Schaeffer said the committee has “definitely confirmed” the areas of concern noted three years ago are still issues that need to be addressed, ultimately concluding “that the demolition of the building would better utilize the entire property, instead of working on renovations and being hogtied to where the geographical location of the current building is.”

Schaeffer said the committee has worked with the town’s energy committee for help in lowering power costs, and how to provide “robust and redundant power supplies in the event of long-duration storms.” The committee has also engaged architects for recommendations on the future project.

Additionally, Schaeffer said, the committee realized that the 2019 feasibility study looked at both the fire and police station, which led the committee to “explore” what a “joint venture” would look like. 

“We’ve come to a fork in the road,” Schaeffer said. “We can look at two separate buildings, or we can look at one particular building as a joint public safety building for the town.”

“We wanted to take pause,” he said, “and see if there’s any particular strong feelings in either direction from the select board, to see how we want to move forward.” 

Select board member Arthur Smadbeck said in his personal opinion, he would like the two buildings to remain as is. “I think having two separate facilities would be more in character with the town of Edgartown,” he said. 

“You work on your building,” he suggested to Schaeffer, “and the police [can] work on theirs.” 

Select board chair Margaret Serpa seconded.

“Aesthetically, I agree,” select board member Mike Donaroma said, adding that the town may become subject to “a lot of pushback” on how a joint facility might look. 

“On practicality,” Donaroma said, combining the two in the creation of a public safety building could be more economical, and allow for shared-use spaces, and split services.

“I just don’t see the citizens of Edgartown liking the looks of this,” he said, suggesting that if the two departments are leaning in the direction of creating one building, a rendering would be useful to get people on board. But the potential size of a joint facility, Donaroma said, “I think it’s going to scare everybody … I don’t think it would fly.” 

Schaeffer clarified that the committee has not decided on how to move forward, and merely is in the stages of gathering more information and opinions. “We want to make sure we’re doing right by the town,” he said. 

Schaeffer extended an invitation to the board members to visit the station and meet with an architect to take on “a village approach” in the planning. A joint building, he said, “might not be as ominous as you may be thinking.”

“I don’t think any of us are looking for a big building, either,” Police Chief Bruce McNamee said, but rather two buildings connected by a common space that could be utilized by both departments. 

Town administrator James Hagerty said the town’s been planning for the fire station’s renovation work, and noted that there is room in the capital plan for improvements to the police station. He said the town is approaching a time when town buildings “need to be rehabbed,” and advocated for more review on the possibilities, as there are both “pros and cons” to each option.