Woburn officials earlier this month began circulating an ambitious fire department modernization plan that would couple the construction of a new headquarters off of Main Street by Route 128 with major renovations to three other firehouses.
In the final days of July, Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin and Fire Chief Stephen Adgate announced their support of an infrastructure plan in which some $25.4 million would be expended to construct a new two-story fire headquarters off Forest Street by the Showcase Cinemas complex and the Route 128 rotary.
The 28,000 square foot public safety building, to replace the community's antiquated headquarters in Woburn's South End, would include space for two ambulances and as many as five other fire vehicles, including a ladder truck and a fire engine.
Initial renderings of the state-of-the-art fire complex also show new living quarters for 15 rank-and-file firefighters, a new auditorium, separate living/office spaces for shift commanders, and amenities such as a training tower, an exercise room and locker bay area, and new administrative and storage spaces.
The recent initiative, one of six scenarios examined by Boston-based DiNisco Design Architects as part of a months-long feasibility study, would also allocate nearly $6.75 million in city funding towards major renovations of the community's South End, East Woburn, and West Side stations.
The last component of the plan would involve the closure of the city's remaining two fire houses (Stations 2 and 3).
Members of the Fire Station Building Committee endorsed the feasibility study option during a meeting last month. Though six separate options were examined, the advisory panel had in recent weeks been debating two preferred scenarios.
The second top modernization plan would have cost roughly $47 million and included the new Forest Park headquarters, as well as the construction of a new two-story substation by the Joyce Middle School off of Locust Street by the city's West Side.
However, during a recent interview with editors from the The Daily Times Chronicle, a sister publication to the Middlesex East, Galvin and other Fire Station Building Committee members described that option as cost prohibitive.
“We are looking at a new station and three renovations/additions,” remarked the mayor, while noting “we will have to get a Special Permit from the City Council as well as funding.”
“The focus is better coverage for all,” later said Adgate at the recent meeting in the mayor’s office.
In his State-of-the-City address to the community in January, the mayor — who in recent years has faced his share of criticism over the antiquated condition of Woburn's fire houses — listed the overhaul of the city's fire department as his top capital priority.
Not long after that declaration, the city executive announced that DiNisco Design had been retained to conduct an exhaustive feasibility study examining how to effectively modernize the public safety department.
Based upon a presentation given by the Boston architect to the Fire Station Building Committee earlier this summer, local officials will spend the next few months creating more detailed schematic design plans for the new central headquarters building.
Those documents, expected to be completed by October, would then be forwarded to Woburn's City Council, which will likely be asked to appropriate funding this fall for the multi-phased capital investment plan.
According to city officials, an informal timeline for the proposal calls for construction of the new headquarters to be begin in July of 2020.
The new facility would tentatively open in Sept. of 2021. It's unclear whether work would simultaneously begin on the other proposed fire house rehabilitations, as phasing plans have not yet been finalized.
With five fire houses, the public safety department's newest building, its Station 1/Headquarters facility in Woburn's South End, dates back to 1980. The oldest building, Central Square's Station 3 off of Main Street, was erected sometime near the close of the 1800s.
The antiquated condition of the fire force's infrastructure and equipment was listed as a major area of concern in a public safety study commissioned back in 2012.
That report, first released in draft forms during the spring of 2013, was compiled by consulting firm Management Resources Inc. (MRI).
Describing issues with mold growth, major fire code violations with some fire houses lacking secondary building exits, and a somewhat embarrassing mention of absent smoke detectors, the authors of the MRI study concluded a major fire department overhaul was needed.
Since the MRI findings were released, the mayor has repeatedly tried to address other deficiencies that related to the fire department's equipment needs.
In fact, since 2013, Galvin's supplemental capital budgets have included millions of dollars for the acquisition of two new fire engines, a new bucket truck, a new ladder truck, new turnout gear, and two command vehicles.
However, the mayor, worried about straining the city's finances, had until this winter been reluctant to act on the second major component of that MRI analysis, which recommended a massive investment into building infrastructure.
Local firefighters, as well as their union representatives, have criticized the multiple year delay in responding to the MRI findings. Last winter, as local officials solidified plans to begin the feasibility study, Galvin acknowledged the community's first responders have shown incredible patience in waiting for the needed funding for the modernization effort.
"The city has a budget and [financial restraints] it has to live with. The fire stations are deficient and were always equally deserving of being addressed. But sometimes, with timing and state funding, you have to go with what you have. I would have liked to do everything at once, but from a budget and oversight perspective, that's pretty tough," the mayor said at the time.
The proposal being heralded by city officials today follows the advice of the 2013 MRI analysis, which recommended the closure of two fire stations and the construction of a new central headquarters building. Adgate and other officials say that by reallocating manpower and resources towards Woburn's Central Square area, the fire force will be moving assets closer to denser population areas in the community.