What is the project?

The Town had previously conducted a Feasibility Study for its Fire Department in 2001, however has only been able to make repairs to the existing facilities and no new construction has ever taken place. The Town has put together a Design Services Team consisting of a Landscape Architect Firm as well as an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) to assist with a new Feasibility Study. The design services study will focus on the review of current fire station locations, facilities, and deployment of equipment and personnel, and to provide long-term recommendations for fire station facilities and infrastructure taking into consideration the size of the community, the combination of low and high density residential developments, multi-story commercial buildings, large-scale industrial facilities, and the potential for future growth within the community.

Specifically, the feasibility study will address the following:

  • Development of a space needs program for the Department to accommodate current and future assets and operations
  • A review of the conditions of the existing fire stations
  • An analysis of potential sites which may be utilized for a new facility
  • A response time study analyzing each site’s ability to cover the Town in an acceptable response time period
  • Conceptual designs and opinions of probable cost for the construction of a new facility

Why is a new fire headquarters needed?

The Town currently operates two fire stations. The current Fire Station Headquarters, located at 193 Main Street, is a four-story structure that was constructed by the Whitin Machine Works Mill in 1922 as a fleet maintenance shop containing a private fire station to protect the mill. It was donated to the Town of Northbridge in the 1970’s and became the Town’s Fire Station Headquarters. It is currently manned around the clock by a minimum crew of four full-time firefighters, providing full fire protection services as well as emergency ambulance services.

The Town also has an existing Fire Substation, Station 2, which was constructed in 1940 by the Rockdale Mill to protect the mill and in 1954 it was also donated to the Town. It is a three-bay, two-story structure that is currently unmanned. The station houses several pieces of apparatus. On-call fire fighters, when they are available, will respond to calls, retrieve these apparatus and provide support services to the full-time fire fighters out of the Headquarters.

Both stations are at the end of their functional lifetimes. Both facilities show signs of structural damage. The electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems in both stations consist largely of original equipment that have been sporadically updated but still do not meet current codes. There are also significant violations to the life safety and accessibility codes in both stations.

Changes to the Northbridge Fire Stations have not kept up with advances in fire-fighting methods, technologies, and equipment. The Northbridge Fire Department consists of 17 career firefighter/ paramedics and 17 on-call firefighters who responded to 3,193 calls in 2018. Vehicles are larger, heavier, while the size of the apparatus bays has remained the same as when they were constructed resulting in insufficient space for all vehicles. The stations also fail to provide sufficient storage of modern equipment within adequate reach of the vehicles.

Why not just renovate the existing facility / facilities?

Both sites are limited by size to meet the existing needs and program of the Department and renovations of the deteriorated structures are not practical. The sites also do not provide the maximum ability to cover the Town in an adequate response time period as do other Town-owned locations. These site limitations to both stations reduce the possibility of improvement by renovation or additions. Likewise, site concerns remove the possibility of construction on either of the existing sites.

What sites are being examined?

The Building, Planning and Construction Committee (BPCC) put together a database of all Town-owned property, as well as sites for sale or known to be available, as well as sites from the original 2001 feasibility study. This database was reduced after a review of size, or other site development restrictions, and the BPCC was then able to initially identify 21 possible sites for a new station. After further review and analysis of site conditions and other development restrictions, that list was reduced down to 11. These 11 final sites were analyzed and scored according to response time, cost of development, visibility and other factors.

Has a site been proposed yet?

The proposed location is known as Goulet Playground / Riverdale Field which is located at 1681 Providence Road. The 23-acre site was purchased by the Town in the 1960’s and was originally proposed as a site for a new elementary school. It has never been built on and has only been used sparingly as an extra ball field for use by the Playgrounds and Recreation Committee. The site is across the town from current headquarters but meets the key criteria of being able to reach the most people in town within an eight-minute response time standard. The current Main Street location reaches 76.4% of city addresses within that time limit, while the proposed new site would reach 95.0% of city addresses.

The parcel, due to its size and useable area, would allow for building space that could fit a station that meets the required program design and also incorporate training facilities on site and adequately store all the equipment and program needs of the department.

Why should we build a single station versus building two new stations?

Despite the fact that the Town currently owns two fire stations, only one of these stations (Main Street Headquarters) is manned by full-time fire fighters. The second station (Rockdale Substation) houses several pieces of apparatus and are only used when available on-call firefighters respond from home or work and then drive to the incident to support the full-time staff coming from Headquarters.

The single station concept would allow for a more uniform response to the entire Town as the proposed site is more centrally located than the Headquarters.

Another advantage to the single station concept is that it is less costly to develop one site versus two. Site construction costs are a high cost category of any development and to only have to construct a building on one site, despite a larger building size than two smaller buildings, allows the Town to save significantly on this cost category.

Will the proposed building meet all of the Fire Department’s needs?

The conceptual design proposed in the Study was developed after a detailed investigation of the Fire Department’s current and future needs. It not only meets the existing operational requirements; it provides the flexibility to allow for long term expansion as it becomes necessary.

As proposed, the new station would have a gross area of 25,743 square feet. The auxiliary storage building would add 3,304 square feet, for a total of 29,047 square feet. This is smaller than the current Fire Headquarters at 193 Main Street, which has a gross area of 33,556 square feet, and the one-story layout is functionally more efficient.

In addition, the proposed design replaces the 3,520 square feet of area in Fire Station 2, as well as the 21,262 square feet of the town offices located at the former Aldrich School at 14 Hill Street.

The proposed new station will replace three aging existing facilities with a combined square footage of 58,338 square feet into an efficient area of 29,047 square feet.

What is the current status of this project?

The Town voters overwhelmingly supported the project at the June 2020 Annual Town Meeting and Annual Election, which has enabled the Building, Planning, and Construction Committee (BPCC) to move forward with this project.

The initial step is getting an OPM on-board. The BPCC will be undertaking the procurement process for these services in the Fall of 2020, with the next anticipated step of the procurement for architectural design services to take place during the winter of 2020.


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