PORTSMOUTH — Early in his time with Portsmouth City Council, 6th Ward Councilman Dennis Packard has made it a priority to increase communication between his ward and the city’s police and fire departments. Pleased so far, further plans are in the works that could aid the east side.
“When I came on board, I mentioned how I’d like a more dedicated police presence up here on the east side and Chief Brewer agreed with me,” he said during a Tuesday phone interview. “I would really like to see us continue to focus on that dedicated presence.”
During the Feb. 20 strategic planning session where departments filled in council on their current work and needs, Fire Chief Bill Raison mentioned the possibility of a new fire building in Sciotoville.
The current fire station, the oldest of all three stations according to the city website, has been in use since 1962 and houses six firefighters, one fire engine and one medical unit, where a new building would be larger and possibly include a community room.
In his packet shared with the city council last month and the PortsmouthDailyTimes Thursday, Raison detailed the proposal along with other wants for his department.
“This station has served the community for the last 58 years, however, due to its age, configuration and condition it is no longer suitable and should be replaced,” reads the document’s executive summary, the current station constructed at the cost of approximately $48,092.
The cost for a new station, needing to be between 7,000 and 8,000 square feet, is projected broadly to cost $1,928,000 based on data from the 2019 National Fire Protection research project. This number does not include land acquisition or site preparation.
Among a list of deficiencies, the building’s structural integrity is in question due to several cracks on its exterior and electrical systems “do not meet modern safety standards.”
Packard said this would be a major development for his ward, where the Sciotoville station is about a 15-minute drive from the Central Station in Portsmouth, and proposed a bay for the police officers at the location.
“Officers from the police department wouldn’t have to drive so far,” he said during the session last month. “They could drive their private car there and get in their patrol car and make the change when they change shifts.”
Discussions of a new facility date about back 11 years, Packard said, where a need was identified for a larger space to allow for proper storage of equipment. In more recent assessments, it has been revealed that the current building’s roof is in need of repair and the importance of health and safety has been more realized.
“When you put all that into the community needs assessment and looking at the old structure, a lot of those items certainly need addressed,” he said, where insufficient storage can lead to less safe places of work. “I think that’s a big concern that I think a lot of people could get on board with.”
With newer equipment, such as fire trucks that cannot fit in 10-feet-high parking doors, even more space is needed. As discussed during the meeting, Packard would like that to be of added emphasis.
Financially speaking, the city has a list of options in where it could spend its money where infrastructure improvements of roads, sidewalks, and the water treatment plant have price tags in the millions. Repairs to water pumps have been frequent in his ward, said Packard, which also has an adverse effect on the fire department.
“If we don’t have water and pressure going into the fire hydrants it doesn’t matter if you have a fire department,” he said.
While the possibility of clearing the city’s fiscal watch status this year exists and finances as a whole have improved, the councilman still believes caution should be the guiding philosophy. More conversation needs to follow focusing on grant funding and whether repairs or add-ons to the current structure would suffice.
“As far as the 6th Ward, I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Packard. “But as far as fiscally responsible, before we can say ‘hey, this what we’re going to do’ I’m sure we need to take a closer look to see exactly what’s it going to cost.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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