TOWNSEND -- Townsend has plenty of fire houses. The brick firehouse in the center of town and the wooden station in West Townsend were built around 1875. And then there's the old fire station in Townsend Harbor, also built in 1875, and more recently taken out of commission.
Over the years, floors were lowered in the two remaining stations and the back was extended in West Townsend in an effort to accommodate ever larger equipment.
Officials say today's trucks are so wide the trucks must pull out of the bays before firefighters can get in. Cleaning the trucks and repacking the hoses is an outdoor job, no matter how rainy or snowy the day.
The municipal garage behind Memorial Hall was built in the mid 1980s for emergency equipment. The fire trucks are so heavy the floors have cracked and sunk.
When the ladder trucks back in, there is only an inch and a half to spare between the ladder and the top of the door. The driver has to thread the rails of the ladder on both sides of the door opening mechanism hanging from the ceiling.
Building new fire stations has been a long process. The town discussed the need to replace the stations during the 1980s but the first fire-station study was not done until 1996, said Fire Chief Don Klein said during an informational session held by the Townsend Fire Station Building Committee at Town Hall on Sept. 17.
After many delays, the 1875 station in the harbor on the east side of town, was replaced. The bays in the 2004 building are large enough so firefighters can maintain the trucks without moving them onto the driveway.
In 2009, another study recommended replacing the stations in the center and in West Townsend.
The Board of Selectmen agreed with the building committee's recommendation to build a single station that will serve the town into the future.
"I do want to make sure the building I propose is expandable and we have the land," Klein said.
One of the biggest obstacles the committee faced was identifying a location. The fire headquarters lot on Route 119 is not big enough, Klein said. The location is also too close to the intersection of Routes 119 and 13.
A Main Street location is best because the members of the mostly on-call department must first travel to the station and then bring the fire-fighting equipment to the scene. No land owners along Route 119 were willing to sell.
A landowner on Scales Lane is willing to sell a lot that is large enough to build a fire station. There will be plenty of land remaining for future expansion of the station or for other town buildings, Klein said. It took some negotiation, the present owner needs to maintain a right of way across the property.
Much remains to be done before a station can be built.
Voters need to approve the plan at town meeting and a then approve a debt exclusion during an election before planning can begin. It could take nine months or longer for plans to be drawn, Klein said.
Before purchasing the land, it must be tested to make sure it is suitable for the proposed use, Klein said.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation needs to be involved in the planning because the intersection of Scales Lane and Route 119 will need to be improved.
The preferred option for a single station with four double bays, a training room, offices, storage and personal space for overnight firefighters has an estimated cost of $11.3 million, increasing the yearly tax for an average house with a value of $220,000 by $242 for 20 years. The final cost will likely be lower, said Klein. "We've built in a lot of contingencies," he said.
The building will be designed for easy expansion and has a life expectancy of 50 years. "Knowing Townsend it's going to be a lot longer than that," he said.
The committee also looked at a second option, building a new headquarters with three bays and a substation with one bay, at an estimated cost of $12.5 million, an increase of $267.87 per average household for 20 years. No land has been identified for this option.
The final costs are likely to be lower not only because the plans include contingencies for pricing but because the committee continues to look for ways to reduce costs, Klein said. As taxpayers, he said he and the other committee members know that townspeople want to get the best value for their money.
Whatever building is chosen, it will use green technology, lowering operating costs, Klein said.
The building committee made a video detailing the problems of the current fire facilities. It runs on the Townsend Community Television station and is on the web. A link to the video is on the town's website: www. townsend.ma.us.
Residents who would like to see the stations first-hand can call Klein who will give them a tour. The number at the fire station is 978-597-8150.