SWANZEY — Almost six months after the town of Swanzey purchased property on Old Homestead Highway (Route 32) for a new central fire station, selectmen are close to choosing an architect to design a proposal.
The central station, in the basement of town hall, has several problems, including health-, fire safety- and building-code issues, but the costs associated with constructing a new station have proved unpopular with voters in the past.
Though previous proposals to move the station elsewhere in Swanzey have advanced to the design phase, only to fail at the polls, this is the first time the town has gone as far as buying land for a new central fire station, according to Town Administrator Michael Branley.
Selectmen approved the purchase of a 4.1-acre property on 321 Old Homestead Highway for $125,000 in November using a capital reserve fund dedicated to the town’s fire stations. The home on the lot was damaged by a three-alarm fire in 2016 that rendered the building uninhabitable.
At the March town meeting, voters OK’d, 577-371, withdrawing $25,000 from that same capital reserve fund for the design phase of the project.
The town’s Fire Department Capital Improvement Committee and selectmen met with two Keene firms — KCS Architects and Catlin + Petrovick Architects — on May 20, according to Branley, who said in an email that selectmen will make the final decision this month on which firm to hire.
Branley noted that a preliminary design and an estimated cost for a new station may be available by December, at which point selectmen can decide if they want to bring the plans to voters at next year’s town meeting.
The town’s central station was built in the 1960s as an addition to the town hall, which was constructed in 1914. Since then, the fire department has outgrown the space, and code concerns have also arisen, Fire Chief Norman W. Skantze said last year.
He said the station does not have enough exits, and several areas of the basement flood every time it rains. Due to the station’s tight quarters, he noted, some pieces of equipment either have to be stored in one of the town’s two other fire stations or outside one of the stations. Swanzey also has fire stations in the eastern and western parts of town.
In 2015 and 2016, selectmen brought before the voters two proposals for building a new station on a parcel off Safford Drive, which was donated to the town, but both multimillion-dollar proposals failed at the polls.
In 2018, residents approved warrant articles that freed up capital reserve funds for renovations to the town’s three fire stations. The fund had $361,000 in it at the time.
The articles discontinued a fund for a new fire station, and established a fund allowing selectmen to spend that money on repairing the existing stations.
Branley said the town has not made significant improvements to its stations since the articles passed.