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Salem calculates benefits of a public safety complex

SALEM - Building a new facility encompassing both the fire and police departments is one option being considered for Salem's not-so-distant future.

During a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) workshop held during Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting, many agreed that building a sole public safety complex could be one way to address the growing needs of both departments. Following this week's discussion on the 2014-2017 CIP projects, a $75,000 engineering study slated for 2014 was removed from the CIP timeline, as was an $8 million police station renovation slated for 2016, according to Town Manager Keith Hickey.

Discussions on the town's five-year CIP plan began early last month. At that time, Hickey stressed that funds were limited and the most recent version of drafted plan had listed funding for replacement of fire vehicles but none for the construction of a new fire station.

A new West End fire station has been proposed many times over the years but hasn't gone much further due to excessive costs.

"Instead of spending money on designing updates, I'd rather see us consider leaning towards building a new safety complex," Selectman James Keller said. "It seems to me we're going to also have to do the fire station sooner rather than later. I'd rather see us do one (single) building and do it right."

Selectman Everett McBride agreed.

"I've been through this many times before, and I think people are ready for a combined complex," he said. "This would be more cost-effective, especially if we could have a central dispatch."

Selectman Stephen Campbell said he'd support the notion, provided the facility was built on land the town already owns.

Keller suggested that a committee of town staff be formed to begin working together and research potential options.

"I'd be happy to be part of that working group," he added. "Let's get the ball rolling and go figure this out."

Chairman Patrick Hargreaves asked the town's two chiefs whether the two facilities could exist in the same building.

"There are such facilities that exist," Police Chief Paul Donovan noted. "But you need to remember, the functions are completely different."

Fire Chief Kevin Breen agreed.

"From a fire point of view, geographic location and accessibility is everything," Breen said. "My understanding is that police stations are more about security and visually seeing whose coming onto your property. So if we could meet those two objectives, fine."

Breen noted that in many instances where the two departments share a building, the two departments are separated by a wall and there usually aren't any common areas.

"Very rarely do you have rooms to serve both departments. We're all just too busy," he said.

The board agreed to discuss the topic more in the coming months.

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