Nashoba Publishing/Chelsea Feinstein

Fire Chief Donald Klein discusses the inefficiency of using five buildings to run the fire department.

Nashoba Publishing/Chelsea Feinstein

Fire Chief Donald Klein points out the tight spaces in the West Townsend station which make it difficult to fit the fire trucks.

By Chelsea Feinstein

cfeinstein@nashobapub.com

TOWNSEND -- Tight spaces, inefficient utilities and a lack of space are some of the biggest problems that Fire Chief Donald Klein has with the fire department's stations.

Klein is asking Townsend voters at November's Special Town Meeting to approve an $11.3 million station on Scales Lane that would serve as the department's headquarters and service both central and west Townsend.

The new building would cut down on operating costs, increase response times and provide a better working environment for the town's emergency services personnel, Klein said.

"The efficiency alone I will gain is going to be huge," Klein said.

If successful, the proposal would cut the department from five buildings to two, with the Scales Lane headquarters and the existing Harbor Station serving the entire community. The other buildings would be turned over to the Properties Committee, and could possibly be leased, sold or used by the town for another purpose.

Two of the stations -- the brick station in the town center and the West Townsend station -- were built around 1875, and are no longer able to serve the department's needs.

"This building was never designed to do the things a modern fire station was supposed to do," Klein said of the building in the center, which is so small that fire trucks cannot fit in it and which requires a ladder to get to the third floor.

The current headquarters at 13 Elm St., used to be a commercial building that was divided among three businesses and therefore has three different heating, air conditioning and electrical systems, driving up operating costs.

The building also does not have room for any fire trucks. Instead, firefighters who receive a call while at headquarters have to drive to the station next to Memorial Hall to pick up a truck. By consolidating operations, Klein said the department will be able to get to calls more quickly.

"This will cut down on our response times, and allow us to efficiently run all of our operations. All that is time that we're not assisting patients," he said.

The new headquarters would also provide a large meeting area and ample storage space to consolidate paper records that are currently housed in buildings all over town.

If approved at Special Town Meeting, the department would be able to begin negotiating for the purchase of a 6-acre parcel of land on Scales Lane from the Townsend Ridge Country Club, before voting on a debt exclusion in April's annual town election.

The property's location, as well as its size, make it ideal, Klein said. It allows the department the option to expand on the building in the future to ensure that the new headquarters lasts at least 50 years.

"I can't tell you what the department's needs will be five or 10 years out, but what we lack today is space to expand on," he said.

"Unless you've got a crystal ball, you can't predict the future. All we can do is ensure that the building is expandable and we have the property to expand on."

Although he acknowledged that the town is facing many expenses, with the building of a new high school and the increased focus on funding road repair, Klein said that the costs to build will only increase if the project is delayed. 

"Economically, from the townspeople's perspective, this may not feel like the right time to do it but from a cost perspective in the long-term, it's the most opportune time and we have to take advantage."

Although Klein is retiring in March and would not be chief when the headquarters is built, which could take up to two years if approved next month, he urged voters to support the fire department's efforts.

"I'm hopeful that the townspeople will see and understand the dilemma we are in," Klein said.

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