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Norwich Again Talks Facilities

Police, Fire and Public Works All Would Like New Homes

Norwich — Among some two dozen residents taking their first close look Wednesday night at plans to overhaul municipal facilities, resident Lois Green didn’t dispute the need for replacing the town’s crumbling, energy-inefficient and undersized fire station, police station and public-works building.

She just wondered about her — and the town’s — appetite to spend as much as $7 million in a single bite.

“It’s really quite overwhelming, all this at once,” Green said at a forum Wednesday night to discuss the town’s options.

Green advocated doing the emergency services component first, followed by the public works garage.

Officials in all three departments say they are pressed for space to house gear and personnel.

“It’s a box, and we have to keep our stuff in a box,” Fire Chief Steve Leinoff said of the fire station tucked behind the Grange building off Main Street. “It’s too small for the amount of stuff we need to operate. … Engine No. 2 is parked within a foot of the rear wall.”

At least Engine No. 2 is parked inside.

“We’re in a box that’s way too small,” Public Works Director Andy Hodgson said of his department’s facility off New Boston Road. “All our stuff is outside.”

Police Chief Doug Robinson said that the 1957 ranch house — on the 1.2-acre lot containing the fire station — where his department moved “temporarily” in 1992 has a 25-year-old hot-water heater on its last legs, while his officers store evidence, interview suspects and victims, and takes breaks all in the same space.

“We keep putting Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid,” Robinson said. “It’s just not functional as a police department.”

The town’s Capital Facilities Committee is considering multiple designs for the police and fire stations, including three on the 1.2-acre site near downtown and three at the Agway/ABC Dairy site not quite a mile north of the village center off U.S. Route 5.

Options for the Agway/ABC site include paying the owner $750,000 for the 10-acre property, and collecting some rent from a current tenant at the site.

Leinoff said that he would prefer the Agway/ABC site, partly because his force would find it easier to drive fire apparatus off and onto Route 5, as opposed to the current site where a narrow driveway leads to a left turn onto Hazen Street and an alleyway next to the Grange hall requires returning vehicles to back up.

“Forty years from now,” Leinoff said, “people will look at the site (behind the grange) and go, ‘What were they thinking?’ ”

Main Street resident Annah Dupuis said that she hopes the town isn’t too quick to move the public-safety stations out of downtown.

“When I think about Norwich, the term ‘village’ comes into my head,” Dupuis said. “Here, the core of our town is Dan & Whit’s, its town hall, its post office, its library, its fire and police departments. That’s what keeps us a village. I want to keep my head around the term ‘village.’ ”

Firefighter Matt Herbert objected to one resident’s contention that the public-safety departments need to use “some Yankee ingenuity,” the way many residents need to with the cost-of-living rising.

“We’ve been doing a lot of Band-Aids, using a lot of ingenuity,” Herbert said. “At some point we have to bite the bullet and say, ‘Yes, I have to do this.’ ”

Town Manager Neil Fulton pointed out that with more energy-efficient construction on the new buildings, the town ultimately would save money and help the planet.

The Capital Facilities Committee will discuss the concerns raised Wednesday night during its regular meeting next Wednesday morning at 8 at Tracy Hall, and again at that night’s meeting with the Selectboard at 7:30.

The next public forum will take place on June 4 at 7 p.m.

After finishing a slide show outlining the reconstruction options, Chris Huston, vice president of architecture for the Middlebury-based consulting firm Breadloaf, said that plenty more fine-tuning lies ahead.

“These are very early conceptual layouts,” Huston said, adding that the designs for the police and fire stations are “very much in flux.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.