MOUNT DESERT — Rather than construct a new building in Northeast Harbor for the fire department and ambulance service, as Fire Chief Mike Bender proposed two months ago, town officials are now considering the idea of adding onto the Town Hall building to provide more space for those services, as well as for the police department.
The Board of Selectmen voted Monday to authorize paying Hedefine Engineering & Design up to $10,000 to prepare a concept floor plan and construction cost estimate for a two-story addition.
Bender told the selectmen more than a year ago that, due to the increasing shortage of volunteer firefighters, the town would need to hire more full-time personnel to provide around-the-clock coverage. That, in turn, would mean the fire department would need to provide sleeping quarters, he said.
Early last year, the idea of building a one-story addition to the existing fire department space at an estimated cost of $2.7 – $3.2 million was considered. But Bender said that would not be adequate in the long run and, instead, proposed building a separate facility across the parking lot from the Town Hall building at an estimated cost of $7.5 million.
But Selectman Martha Dudman objected to the location, and others questioned the cost. The selectmen in November asked the town staff to come up with a better alternative.
Bender told them on Monday, “We’re now looking at expanding the existing town office building to provide quarters for the firefighters, hopefully moving to a 24/7 staffing model in the next year or two, as well as providing space for the [Northeast Harbor] Ambulance Service.
“It’s going to be similar to the first option we looked at, which was expanding out into the parking lot [where the town of Cranberry Isles leases spaces for its residents]. But instead of the original option of a single–story addition, now we’re looking at putting two stories on to give us the room we feel we’re going to need.”
Over the past few weeks, Mount Desert and Bar Harbor Police Chief Jim Willis joined the discussion about the need for more space.
He told the selectmen that he and two others who do administrative work for the two police departments currently work “in two or three different locations, never at the same time.”
“It makes life pretty difficult,” Willis said. “If we could find a way to get us under one roof, we’d be far more efficient.”
Better space for processing and storing evidence is another need, he said.
“Our evidence is stored all over the place in two different towns. It’s very secure, but it’s (inefficient) to get to all of it,” he said.
Willis said more space also might be needed for dispatch services, noting that the town of Southwest Harbor “has been asking us if were interested in providing at least overnight dispatch for them.”
Basil Mahaney of the Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service told the selectmen, “We’ve got very limited space now, and with our 24/7 staffing, we’ve got people spread all over everywhere. So, anything the town can do to help us get the staff in the station would be awesome.”
The proposed building addition would increase the number of bays for emergency vehicles from three to five.
“We’re looking down the road 30 or 40 years, so we wanted to provide room so that if we should have to add a fire truck or an ambulance or even have a place to store our pickup truck,” Bender said.
Public Works Director Tony Smith, who worked with the fire and police chiefs on the new expansion proposal, told the selectmen, “It’s not going to be cheap, but spread out over three emergency services that are vitally important, not just for one town but for the island, I think it’s a good idea.”
One option that was briefly considered was constructing a public safety building on the town garage property on Sargeant Drive. However, the department heads determined that, for a variety of reasons, that would not be a good choice.
But at the request of Selectman Geoff Wood, the board agreed to ask Hedefine to provide a cost estimate for building the public safety facility at the highway garage, as well as preparing a concept floor plan and cost estimate for an addition to the Town Hall building.
Bender said he hoped Hedefine’s report would be ready for the selectmen to discuss at their Jan. 19 meeting.