Walpole Residents Vote for Facilities Override on November 4

Julia Sandquist

Chief of Police Richard Stillman provides a tour of the Police Station.

The Town of Walpole has approved two    overrides in the last decade: the Walpole  Public Library in 2008 and  the Proposition 2.5 Override (for the General Operations Budget).  However, in 2006 and 2010, the Town of Walpole did not approve a comprehensive plan for a combined police and fire station (in addition to voting down the library previously in 2007).  In the four years since the latest proposal’s defeat, Walpole selectmen have revised the proposal in two significant ways by changing the project location to South Street and by adding a Senior Center.  On November 4, the Town of Walpole will vote on the new proposal.

The proposal, which would raise $21.1 million, raises taxes on Walpole residents by an average of $150 at its peak year in 2018.  The tax gradually  increases to that peak year of 2018 before gradually decreasing until 2025.  The override covers two thirds of the cost of a new police station, fire station and renovations of the Town Hall. The remaining factors of the project will be funded by approximately 10 million dollars, saved from the new library construction, prison mitigation funds, and a federal senior center grant.

If the override passes, the following is the tentative schedule for construction: first, the South Street site will be cleaned of contaminants in 2015; while the cleaning takes place, the contractors will finalize the design for the new buildings.  From 2016 to 2018, contractors will build the new Walpole Police Station and Senior Center, and the Department of Public Works facilities. After those buildings are completed, contractors will build the Fire Station later in 2018 and finish by 2020.

Firefighter Steven Tyner puts equipment back into a truck.

In terms of the contamination, the proposal aims to resolve a town eyesore as well as the health and safety issues for the 9,000 residents that live within one mile radius of the South Street site.  Specifically, many residents of South Street and Clark Avenue – the neighborhoods surrounding the contaminated site – are in favor of the plan because it will improve the quality of their neighborhood.  In terms of finances, this cleanup is at zero cost to residents because it will be paid by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

As for the current facilities, the Walpole Police Station was built in 1881, and the original East and South Fire Stations were constructed in 1923. In 1954 though, the Town of Walpole built a new Police and Call Fire Station. Since then, Walpole closed the 1923 Fire Stations and consolidated all Fire Department activities at the Stone Street Station.  However, similar to the Police Station, the 1954 station is outdated and fails to meet state building regulations.

“The current fire building does not support the new technology that we want to use,” Walpole Fire Captain Paul Carter said, “and we keep adding on to a system that is already maxed out. We definitely need a new fire station to ensure that we are able to perform our job to the best of our ability.”

In addition, many believe that the addition of the Senior Center makes this proposal the most appealing one yet because it appeals to a large demographic within the community.

Walpole Selectman Mark  Gallivan said,  “I believe that it is important to support…citizens who have supported the town the entire time they lived in Walpole.”

Others citizens, however, are not ready to approve the proposed override. Sam Obar, a Walpole Town Meeting Representative and blogger on town politics, believes that the cost estimates of the plan are not reasonable.

“A 9.5 million police station is too much money,” Mr. Obar said. “In 2010, the town proposed a police station on Robbins Road for $7.9 million, which was voted down. If a $7.9 million station was okay four years ago, I think $8 million should probably be the upper limit for what we need now.”

Besides the cost, he also dislikes the lack of blueprints. Without designs until 2015, he believes the Walpole voters may be indirectly approving a design that lacks practicality, efficiency, or even curb appeal.

In just a few weeks on November 4, the Town of Walpole will vote the revised proposal.