MOUNT DESERT — Voters at the May Town Meeting will be asked to authorize spending $357,500 for engineering and other services related to designing the proposed addition to the Northeast Harbor fire station, which would house fire and EMS personnel and equipment.
The Board of Selectmen voted last week to approve the fire chief’s request to place that item on the warrant.
Hedefine Engineering & Design would be paid $305,000 for design, bidding and permitting services. Civil engineering firm Haley Ward would receive $25,000 for IT services. Telecommunications provider Brown’s Communications would be paid $2,500. And there would be $25,000 to cover contingencies.
The fire department’s need for more space is being driven primarily by the continuing decline in the number of volunteer firefighters. The transition from a force of mostly volunteers to mostly full-time, paid firefighters over the next few years means the town will need to provide on-site living quarters. The Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service has similar needs.
Building the proposed addition to the fire station would cost an estimated $5.1-$6 million. The selectmen indicated their support for the project earlier this month. But since then, several board members have heard from people in town who question the need for such an expansion and are concerned about the projected cost.
“There seems to be quite a few people in the community who are not in favor of this big new addition,” Selectman Martha Dudman said.
“I wish more of them had come forward publicly to talk to us. This board likes to hear from the public and likes to know how people feel about issues facing our town.
“We have heard from department heads who feel this is necessary, and they have graciously adjusted the price and the location to our specifications,” Dudman said.
“I think the only way forward at this point is to put this on the [Town Meeting] warrant and let the voters decide. I look forward to a very healthy discussion on the Town Meeting floor, and I hope people won’t be shy about telling us how they feel.”
Because of the restrictions on large gatherings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the May 4 open Town Meeting is to be held, as it was last year, as a drive-in event at Mount Desert Island High School.
A concern was expressed at the selectmen’s meeting last week that, because of the drive-in format, the turnout for Town Meeting might be quite small. And it was suggested that any vote on funding for the proposed fire station expansion be postponed for a year.
But Fire Chief Mike Bender said the need for a new facility, with accommodations for fire and EMS personnel, is becoming urgent.
“I think pushing this out another year would have a big impact on not only the fire service but the ambulance service,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time left. You are probably, at best, looking at a completion date of two years. So, time is of the essence.”