EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 28, 2013

Ex-manager presents Ballardvale alternative

By Dustin Luca
dluca@eagletribune.com

---- — ANDOVER — A previous town manager presented his pitch for repairing, not replacing, the Ballardvale Fire Station last night to two boards who have been seeing proposals aiming to do the opposite for years.

Richard Bowen, a Bannister Road resident and Town Manager from 1964 to 1969, will ask Annual Town Meeting to raise $500,000 to repair the Ballardvale Fire Station and keep it in service as opposed to current town efforts aiming to relocate the station and build a new facility.

Bowen pitched his proposal to the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen last night.

“The Ballardvale Fire Station has been in existence for 121 years,” Bowen said. “It has served the village, it has served the surrounding areas, it has served the town of Andover, I submit, with distinction all of those years.”

He said he rejected the town’s efforts to rebuild the station, and attacked them last night for a number of reasons — one of the largest being where the proposed replacement may eventually be built.

The Ballardvale Fire Station Building Committee is currently looking at land on South Main Street, after a plan in previous years to relocate it to the corner of Andover and Woburn streets drew stiff neighborhood opposition. With the current station at the corner of Andover Street and Clark Road operating 0.6 miles away from him, Bowen said the new station would be 2.6 miles away — increasing the response time to where he lives in Ballardvale to somewhere north of five minutes.

“Every single property that is served at the present time through the Ballardvale Fire Station would take longer to have fire equipment at their door with a station on South Main Street,” he said. “As a former public administrator, I find that in some respects, for the lack of a better phrase, it’s mind-boggling that anyone would consider relocating the fire station approximately two miles from where it is at the present time, from the center of a rather densely populated area.”

He also opposed the committee’s current efforts based on the plan’s cost.

“$500,000, or even $1 million, to do the work to Ballardvale Fire Station, to me, has a better ring to it than $6, to $8, to $10 million for a new station,” he said.

Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said that Bowen “made wonderful points,” and that “there’s a lot of merit” to what he’s proposing. The next step would be to commission a study to see how realistic the proposal is.

“We’ll see how it shakes out,” Stapczynski said. “We have to study to see what it would take. The [present] facility doesn’t have an ambulance, and that’s what we need.”

Three members of the Board of Selectmen, speaking individually, all held weighing in on the proposal until more data is available.

For Selectman Brian Major, one of the biggest factors in the decision will be response times — how long it would take a fire engine to hit the road and get to the scene of a fire from one point of town to another.

Previous studies have based recommendations for the station’s location on how many residents would be impacted by it being built at the recommended location. And in prior presentations, Fire Chief Mike Mansfield has said that the size of a fire doubles every 40 seconds, making every minute it takes to respond to a fire critical.

“We have to make the decision based on the data,” Major said.