NORTHFIELD – The city’s emergency services facilities committee will recommend that the Selectboard contract with Chicopee-based architectural firm Caolo & Bieniek Associates Inc. to design a new public safety complex.
Although the process of pursuing a new facility has been underway for years, February saw pressure for a new building reinvigorated with the release on February 2 of a video tour showing the shortcomings of police department buildings, d Northfield Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
Three weeks later, the committee on Wednesday hosted presentations from architectural firms Tecton Architects, Jacunski Humes Architects and Caolo & Bieniek Associates. The committee elected Caolo & Bieniek Associates as their preferred firm, agreeing on a recommendation to send to the Selectboard.
During the recent virtual tour, which can be viewed at bit.ly/3pEd4hp.
“I would really like to have a public safety complex where we can really have a space that accommodates everything a police department needs to do,” Chief of Police Jon Hall said.
Opening the 19-minute video, Hall noted how surprised he was by the state of the police station when he was hired. It is located in the basement of the Town Hall, next to the Center des Seniors.
“When I got the job, I had never seen the real inside of the police department,” said Hall, who was sworn in on Dec. 6 last year. “You will see here how small and cramped it is.”
The visit began outside the station, with Hall pointing to the lack of air cover, adding that police don’t have the luxury of clearing snow before rushing in to respond to a call. Right after entry, the issues become more ethical.
“If we had a prisoner right now, we would walk the prisoner near the senior center,” Hall said. “Depending on the prisoner’s behavior, he might yell, swear or kick, which wouldn’t be great for the senior center. Also, in our jobs, we have a lot of cases that are of a sensitive nature to include domestic violence and other crimes, possibly crimes against children. These people should come in here.
Another prisoner-related concern cited by Hall was the lack of film recording capabilities in the room where the interviews and booking process take place, as well as current detention facilities.
“Probably the most disturbing thing I’ve seen here is this section where the prisoners sit with the chains sticking out of the ground,” he said. “Overwhelmed” is not a strong enough word. Truly unacceptable.”
Concerns lingering throughout Hall’s tour include the use of a single officer’s desk by 11 different people, in addition to physical clutter, a problem shared by the EMS facility, the chief said. EMS Mark Fortier during the next segment of the video.
“It’s functional for us now, but it has limitations for future growth,” Fortier said of the building at 41 Main Street.
EMS began operations in the basement of the fire hall at 93 Main Street, where the service was assigned three-quarters of a bay, according to Fortier. The department then cleaned up and moved into the old Sandri Energy building in 2011.
“We don’t have the capacity to hold a big meeting unless we get the trucks out of the bay,” Fortier explained. “We don’t have any facilities for people to stay overnight unless they sleep on the sofa, no place to shower, and we don’t even own this property. It’s owned by Sandri and the department leases it to the Sandri companies.
Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III expressed similar concerns as he concluded the video with a segment about the fire station. He explained that the current station was built in 1952 and has been occupied by the department since 1953. In addition to the bays preventing any sort of reasonable mobility, Dunnell said that only one room has functioned as a meeting room, a hall training and a chief’s office. Dunnell also said the department is currently using part of the kitchen to clean turnout equipment.
One of the main structural issues, Dunnell explained, is that the concrete ceiling on the lower level began to crack a few years ago, causing support issues for the second floor.
“It has since been repaired, but the unfortunate thing is that we can no longer place the heaviest devices on the upper floor,” he said, noting that the equipment has become even heavier in recent years.
As each Northfield leader makes known the struggles of his department, there is a clear collective faith that the city will take action to anticipate.
“One of the great things about the committee is that we can’t just look at what we need today,” Dunnell said at Wednesday’s meeting, acknowledging the current fire station’s 70 years of service.
As the Emergency Services Facilities Committee began deliberating which company to recommend to the selection committee, project manager Tony DiLuzio of Colliers International expressed confidence in each of the three proposed companies.
“I can get you to do the job with any of the three,” he said. “I know there are pros and cons.”
While the committee praised Brian Humes, founding partner of Jacunski Humes Architects, for the extent of his research on the site, members largely favored Tecton Architects or Caolo & Bieniek Associates over the firm that had produced designs schematics for the Northfield Public Safety Facility in 2011. A vote where members ranked their first, second and third preferences yielded a result where Caolo & Bieniek Associates became the most popular.
Caolo & Bieniek’s emergence as a recommended company can be attributed in part to its 60 years of experience in Western Massachusetts. The company also impressed committee members with its focus on energy efficiency.
“We understand that there is a hydroelectric plant and that could be a good way to offset your emissions to reach your net zero goals,” Caolo & Bieniek Associates Vice President Jim Hanifan told the committee. “We will explore all of your options. We certainly want to work with you to fulfill everything you want in this building.
The presentation included conceptual “trial fit” designs of a facility with drive-thru device bays, and options for a two-story facility or a single-story facility, which would be located on a vacant lot on Main Street (Route 10 and 63) just north of Dickinson Memorial Library. Each concept is highlighted by a 7,500 square foot switchgear bay and a parking lot with approximately 50 public parking spaces. The two-story concept contains 16 parking spaces for personnel and first responders, while the single-story concept contains 24.
While the single-story and drive-in concepts imply 8,300 square feet of space, the two-story concept involves 11,000 square feet. With each company recognizing the boundaries of the property, which is bordered by protected wetlands, Caolo & Bieniek Associates has demonstrated its commitment to maximizing the land’s potential.
“We really want to build in harmony with the site,” Hanifan said.
A cost estimate for the project will be determined when the city engages with Caolo & Bieniek Associates in negotiations. City administrator Andrea Llamas said a “rough” estimate could be available by May’s annual town hall meeting, but would likely take longer to finalize. She said the project is expected to launch next winter, with construction potentially starting the following spring.
Llamas said she hopes the selection committee will recognize the contract entry recommendation and that she is ready to discuss it at the March 8 board meeting.
Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or [email protected]