The Town of Amherst has identified two sites, which could serve as the future locations for a new fire department headquarters and a new public works facility. After years of study, the current Department of Public Works (DPW) facility at 586 South Pleasant Street has been identified by the Town Manager’s Office as the optimal site for a new Fire Department headquarters to replace the current facility in downtown. And a 27-acre parcel of land on the east side of South East Street north of Stanley Street and Tamarack Drive was identified as the preferred site for a new public works facility, according to Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek. The town currently owns the site on South Pleasant Street. Amherst College owns the site on South East Street.
The decrepit conditions of the Central Fire Station and the current DPW facility have been well documented and have been central elements in the current capital plan. The DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee completed studies in 2006 and 2018 (for the fire station and fire headquarters respectively ) and 2016 (for DPW) That committee recommended the current DPW site on South Pleasant Street as the best location for the new fire station, but finding a location large enough to accommodate a new DPW facility proved to be a challenge.
Proposed DPW Site
The DPW/Fire Station facility study identified 12 potential sites for the DPW. But with further investigation, each of these sites, for different reasons, proved to be not viable, said Ziomek. This left the town with a dilemma. Moving forward with a new fire station at the preferred site requires prior relocation of the DPW. With no apparent candidate for a DPW site apparent, the Town Manager’s office recently began conversations with numerous property owners including UMass, Amherst College and Hampshire College. Ziomek said that Amherst College responded with an invitation to discuss using the 27-acre parcel on South East Street for the DPW facility. The site is large and flat, with adequate acreage, it is centrally located, accessible, and buildable. The proposed DPW building would take up about 8-10 of the 27 acres at the site according to Ziomek. No site analysis has yet been done. If plans move forward, Amherst College has indicated that it would offer the land as part of a 99-year lease for $1.00, Ziomek said.
Town Council President Lynn Griesemer said, “After years of study and documentation, it is clear the Town needs a new Fire Department headquarters and Public Works facility. We have been working to find locations for over a decade. We are delighted that Amherst College has given the Town permission to explore the feasibility of locating a Public Works facility on land it owns. We are dedicated to working closely with abutters and neighbors as we explore this possibility.”
Neighborhood outreach preceded public announcement of the proposed locations. Beginning on June 20, Town staff went door-to-door to introduce the idea and to speak with and listen to neighbors one-on-one. Three teams of two were formed: Town Manager, Paul Bockelman, Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek and Fire Chief Tim Nelson, each accompanied by a community participation officer,canvassed South East Street, Willow Street, Tamarack Drive, Stanley Street, and Route 9 in the proximity of Stanley Street on June 20 and 21. According to Ziomek they had conversations with over 60 individuals.
Representatives from the Town also attended a neighborhood association meeting on June 29, at Kiwanis Park where they fielded questions from about 15 neighbors and abutters. Neighbors asked about the potential impacts of the construction and operation of the facility on the neighborhood, the possible locations of entrances, and the reasons for locating the facility at this particular site. Ziomek noted that any project of this scale is going to have an impact on the neighborhood in which it is located and that the town is making a concerted effort to hear the neighbors and address their concerns. He also noted that this is the only viable option that the town has on the table right now and that the site is quite well suited for its proposed use.
In order for the projects to move forward, a feasibility study will need to be conducted for the South East Street site. This will need to be approved by the Town Council and Ziomek expected a proposal for such a study to come before the council in the fall.
There will be two more opportunities for the public to discuss this project with with representatives from the town. District Meetings hosted by District 2 Councilors Lynn Griesemer and Pat DeAngelis will be held:
• July 8 6:00 PM at Fort River School Cafeteria
• July 23 6:00 PM at Fort River School Cafeteria
All members of the public are welcome to attend. Town staff will make a presentation and there will be opportunity for comments, questions, and answers. The Town has set up a special web page that will house developing information on these two projects, which can be found here.
Questions and concerns can also be directed to the Town Manager and the Town Council:
• By phone at (413) 259-3002
The town provided the following background information in a press release posted on July 1.
The Town of Amherst has a long history of “making do” with its major facilities. The last significant new municipal building in Town was the Police Station built in 1989 – 30 years ago. For a generation, the Town has not addressed the significant needs it has in capital expenditures for public buildings. These needs include outdated fire and public works facilities, schools, fields, roads, and sidewalks. This backlog must be addressed to meet the needs of a growing and changing community. In recent years, the Town has taken tangible steps to address its roads and sidewalks. It is now poised, with careful financial planning, to address the capital investment in facilities for fire, public works, schools, and libraries.
A new fire department headquarters has been discussed for decades with the earliest study being presented to the Town in 1966 with additional studies being completed in 1983 and 2006. The deficiencies of the central fire station, built in 1929, are numerous from garage bays that do not meet the space requirements for modern fire and ambulance apparatus to living quarters for our firefighters that are abysmal. Professional analysis of response times and coverage areas identified the location for a replacement fire headquarters as being south of downtown on South Pleasant or West Street. Locations in East Amherst were not appropriate as not all fire apparatus can fit beneath the two train trestles on South East Street.
The Department of Public Works has been operating out of an abandoned trolley barn that just celebrated its 100th birthday. The building is small – several DPW divisions are housed in buildings in other parts of town – and it has outdated facilities for our hard-working staff who maintain our water, sewer, parks, trees, highways, and sidewalks.
The Town established a DPW-Fire Study Committee to address the issues (add link). Additional analysis confirmed earlier studies that recommended the fire station be relocated south of downtown and that a public works facility with adequate facilities for staff and needed acreage for operations was necessary. Vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are stored out of doors, shortening their useful lives.