Top capital projects will cost $75 million

Oct 14, 2020 by

Published October 14, 2020

THE ESTIMATED COST for a new public safety building totals $45 million. The current police station and fire stations were built in the 1960s. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — Several years in the making, the Strategic Planning Committee gave an overview of three large capital projects to the Board of Selectmen last week.

Strategic Planning Committee Chairman Joe Connell said the committee was charged with advising the selectmen about several large capital projects. He said the SPC ranked the elementary schools’ expansion project, a new public safety building and a new library as the three biggest priorities currently facing the town.

All three projects have a combined cost estimate totaling $75 million.

Elementary schools’ expansion

Connell noted that the elementary schools’ expansion project has a $17 million price tag. He recalled that the town hired the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) in order to compile enrollment projections for the district for the next 10 years. He said elementary school enrollment is going to increase significantly.

“There is urgency to get this project done,” said Connell.

Connell said the project involves constructing permanent additions onto both elementary schools that would each contain five classrooms.

“Modular classrooms are just as expensive as brick-and-mortar buildings,” said Connell.

Connell said Summer Street’s addition would be located off of the fourth grade wing while Huckleberry Hill’s addition would be located in the back of the building. He said Huckleberry Hill School’s project includes enlarging the gym.

The expansion project also includes enlarging the parking lot at each school as well as the pick-up and drop-off area. Connell said new fields will be built at both schools, and a new playground will be built at Summer Street.

Connell said local officials evaluated potential alternatives as opposed to constructing permanent additions, but said none of the alternatives would address the problem.

“I don’t think larger class sizes would fit and I don’t think the town wants that either,” said Connell. “The only option we have right now is additions to Huckleberry Hill and Summer Street.”

Selectmen Chairman Chris Barrett agreed.

“There is an absolute need right now to expand both elementary schools to meet the needs of our students and teachers,” said Barrett. “If we don’t expand both elementary schools, there are going to be major consequences for Lynnfield Public Schools.”

Selectman Phil Crawford concurred with Barrett’s viewpoint.

“The schools in this town have always been a priority, and we know there is a big problem with overcrowding at the elementary schools,” said Crawford.

Public safety building

Connell said the town’s current police station and fire stations are in a state of disrepair and need to be replaced.

“We looked at three different options,” said Connell. “The options we looked at are building on the current location, renovations or a new location. After looking at some of the costs, renovations would not be beneficial to the town because it wouldn’t increase the size of the buildings, which is one of the biggest problems public safety has right now.”

Connell noted the current public safety buildings are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.

“The buildings are out of date,” said Connell. “They are not functional for what police and fire have to do.”

Connell showed the selectmen a number of photos of the existing public safety buildings in order to illustrate their bad condition. He said the police station’s processing and initial holding area are “not in compliance with state regulations right now.”

“The current firing ranges below the police station are no longer operational because (they do not) meet OSHA standards,” said Connell. “Our police officers have to go to other police stations to fire their weapons.”

Connell noted that the Police Department has 11 cruisers and one motorcycle, but said the garage below the station is only big enough to store four cruisers.

“Our cars are not being protected during bad weather, especially during the winter,” said Connell.

Connell said police officers have to bring people who have been arrested up a stairwell located at the back of the building and not the front entrance. He said police officers have told him they are concerned a person can kick an officer down the stairs if a struggle occurs.

“It’s a great concern of theirs and rightly so,” said Connell.

Connell also said the police station’s holding cells are very small.

The two fire stations are in poor condition as well, Connell said. He said Fire Headquarters’ bay is so small that the ladder truck can barely get out of the door. He noted firefighters currently store their equipment next to fire trucks because the station is so small.

While the Fire Department does not have any female firefighters currently, Connell said both male and female firefighters are required to share the same locker room.

“There is one shower for all of the firefighters,” said Connell. “They converted a wash area into a female bathroom.”

Connell said the current estimate for constructing a new public safety building is around $45 million. Town Administrator Rob Dolan added that DiGiorgio Associates, Inc. will be giving a presentation about an ongoing feasibility study to the selectmen this December.

Crawford said the town’s current public safety buildings are “antiquated.”

“We have to do something,” said Crawford. “It’s obvious we are not going to pour money into the existing facilities. A new fire and police facility would be ideal for the town.”

Library

Connell said the town is in a holding pattern in regards to the new Lynnfield Public Library project. He said the proposed new library has moved up to number 11 on the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ waiting list for library construction projects.

The proposed new library has an estimated cost of $21 million, but Connell said the town is slated to receive an $8 million grant from the MBLC to help fund the project. He said the town’s share of the project totals $13 million.

“After towns get informed they will be eligible to receive money for their library projects, you only have six weeks to say yes or no,” said Connell. “We continue to keep moving down that list and when it comes up, we will have to decide what we want to do.”

Connell also showed the selectmen photos of the library’s current poor condition. He said the library has space issues just like the public safety buildings.

If the town approves the library project, Connell said it would be located on a parcel of land located on the Reedy Meadow Golf Course.

Barrett, who currently serves on the Library Building Committee, said a new library is needed. He said Library Building Committee Chairman Russell Boekenkroeger has done a great job leading the committee.

Crawford added that the library project is “on its own timeline” because of the $8 million grant.

Financing

After giving an overview of the three main priorities, Connell discussed ways the town can fund the different projects. He said all three projects have to be funded by a debt exclusion vote.

Connell said the capital improvement projects that were approved 20 years ago as well as the Reedy Meadow Golf Course purchase will be coming off the town’s books between 2023 and 2026. He said the average home in town costs $650,000.

“On the average $650,000 home, you will have $416.30 potentially coming off your taxes during those years,” said Connell. “If we do not change taxes and maintain that, we can potentially pay for two projects and maintain the current rate.”

Crawford said the town will have the ability to only pay interest on the loans for the first couple of years.

“That does help if you want to minimize the tax implications while the other money is falling off,” said Crawford.

Future projects

In addition to the elementary schools’ expansion, public safety building and library projects, Connell said the future projects that could be undertaken down the road includes building a recreation center.

“The town does not have a youth center,” said Connell. “All of the gymnasiums at the schools are currently maxed out from morning to night. There is no time for the Recreation Department to rent one of the gyms in the school system. There is enough space on the Reedy Meadow Golf Course to build a recreation facility later.”

Connell also said the town’s cemeteries need to be expanded since they are running out of space. He also noted that Lynnfield Center Water District ratepayers will be voting on a capital project seeking to address the district’s discolored water and water quantity problems in the future.

After Connell finished giving the SPC’s presentation, the selectmen unanimously voted to accept the group’s findings. All three selectmen praised Connell and the SPC for their efforts over the past two years.

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