Tisbury Emergency Building Plan Stalls

By MAX HART

Two and a half years after Tisbury voters gave the green light to move ahead with an ambitious plan to build a new emergency services facility housing the fire and ambulance departments, progress on the new building has stalled.

Lack of consensus over a suitable location among members of the committee responsible for steering the project, plus an array of snags in several proposed sites, has led to months of indecision. Increased debate both within the committee and among the selectmen has added to the impasse.

"I wouldn't call it gridlock, but it certainly has not proceeded at the pace we originally hoped," Tisbury fire chief John Schilling said this week. "There are just not plots of town-owned land available that are ideal for this project, and that is the unquestionable part of the equation that is holding this up. But I think we are as close as we have been."

Town administrator John Bugbee, who is a member of the committee, agreed. "Everyone's looking for this golden nugget of where it should go, and it just doesn't exist," he said, adding: "Some of the committee members are really sticking to their own preferences in where it should go and I think that has slowed us down. We need to agree that there may not be the ideal place available but one that will be well-suited for the town's needs."

Some members of the committee insist that the facility must abut State Road - a scenario that while possible, may not be cost effective. There are alternative sites, but some committee members are reluctant to pursue them.

"I think the High Point Lane site has always been the front runner, but it is not ideal," Mr. Bugbee said, referring to a site owned by the town near the park and ride and the town landfill. "I think we have to look at costs and what is available and that limits us to only a few viable locations. I don't think that includes land directly next to State Road," Mr. Bugbee said.

Frustration bubbled over during the selectmen's meeting last week, when Mr. Schilling expressed his displeasure at comments from board chairman Tristan Israel about the lack of consensus among committee members. Mr. Israel dropped in on the committee's meeting earlier this month and was critical of the lack of progress, warning that any further delay may endanger the project.

Mr. Schilling defended the committee's work. Last summer engineering consultants at Brown, Lindquist, Fenuccio and Raber Architects Inc. released a feasibility study laying out several locations off State Road - only one of which was situated on town-owned land. Of the scenarios examined, with the exception of rebuilding the current fire station on Beach street, most of the sites were on or near High Point Lane. At the time, the favorite site was a town-owned parcel located next to the department of public works building. Using town land meant a lower price tag for the project, estimated by the engineering firm at between $3.3 and $4.7 million.

Later the town land was found to be unsuitable because of a variety of site problems. Since then, the committee has looked at taking by eminent domain several lots at the beginning of Evelyn Way as well as the old Coca-Cola bottling building (now occupied by Island Home Furnishings). The cost of acquiring the land is unknown.

Selectman Thomas Pachico has advocated for another parcel of land which is not owned by the town: the old Nobnocket property. The property is currently owned by the Dukes County Savings Bank, which had plans to build a new headquarters there but abandoned them.

Mr. Bugbee said he believes the Nobnocket property would be too expensive for the town to buy.

Meanwhile, the current fire station needs repairs and is not big enough to hold the town's new ladder truck, purchased two years ago for $800,000. The town ambulance barn is poorly located at the police station near the congested Five Corners, making it difficult to exit quickly to respond to calls.

The public safety building project first surfaced in April of 2004, when voters approved spending $60,000 for a feasibility study.

At a town meeting in Novembeer of 2005, a series of spending articles related to the project were shelved amid confusion over the site options.

The town has yet to revisit the project. Now Mr. Schilling worries about rising costs, which Karl Raber, the engineer who wrote the feasibility study, indicated are likely to increase five to eight per cent per year.

But Mr. Bugbee said the committee is close to agreeing on a new set of recommendations for the selectmen in the coming weeks. One new proposed site is at the end of Evelyn Way, on the east side of the State Road business corridor across from Pinetree Road. Mr. Schilling said the committee hopes to ask the selectmen to schedule a special town meeting this fall to act on the recommendations.

"This is almost it," he said. "There is just no place left in Tisbury for this building. I hope we can work from here because there are no more tracts of land available near an acceptable route."