SALEM — Selectmen agreed last night to begin planning for the construction of a public safety complex to house both the Police and Fire departments instead of building two new stations.
The decision came as the board reviewed millions of dollars in proposed capital improvement projects for 2014-2017. Selectman James Keller told his colleagues it would be more efficient and cost-effective to have a combined facility.
“I would rather do two buildings as one,” Keller said.
Keller briefly mentioned the idea at the board’s meeting Dec. 3, but no action was taken. Last night, the board backed Keller’s proposal and directed Town Manager Keith Hickey to start planning for the police-and-fire complex.
A committee would be formed to plan the project, and one of its first tasks would be finding a suitable site, Keller said.
“I think people are ready for a police-fire public safety (complex),” Selectman Everett McBride Jr. said.
Selectman Stephen Campbell agreed.
“I think it makes sense,” he said.
The board also received support from police Chief Paul Donovan and fire Chief Kevin Breen after Selectmen Chairman Patrick Hargreaves asked, “Can we have two departments exist in the same building?”
Although many communities have public safety complexes, the two chiefs said having the Police and Fire Departments share the same building is not as cost-effective as some people would think.
Both departments have their own specialized needs, including separate areas for training, Donovan said.
But a combined facility could be designed to serve both departments, he said.
“You can make them work,” Donovan said. “There is nothing in it I don’t think can’t be overcome.”
Both chiefs agreed the most important factor would be finding a location that didn’t increase the Fire Department’s response time to calls.
“From a fire station’s point of view, geographic location is everything,” Breen said.