Proposed Essex Public Safety Facility

Aerial view of the proposed public safety facility in Essex from the Johnson Roberts Associates, Inc. July design update.

Residents of Essex, the Town Building Committee, and the Board of Selectmen will convene on Monday, September 23 for a Special Town Meeting on an issue long talked about — a public safety facility. The long-planned project, which calls for the construction of a building to house both the Essex Fire and Police Departments on two adjoining properties on John Wise Avenue, was tabled at the Annual Town Meeting on May 6 due to a soft budget of $17.5 million that left too many unknowns. 

Because the budget was about 30 percent final then (and typically towns ask for approval when the budget is at least 60 percent final), residents voted that night to approve $497,105 to develop a final document that would feature a fully bidded, high-confidence budget. Such a budget would detail all construction or renovation costs including landscaping, site work and paving, moving, demolition and disposal, assessment, containment or removal of hazardous materials, and any and all other incidental costs. 

Since then, progress has continued to be made in regard to finalizing a budget. In late May, a design update was released in cooperation with Johnson Roberts Associates, Inc., an architectural company from Somerville. The company underwent an economic analysis that assessed the performances of various mechanical systems in comparison to a baseline mechanical system and also explored HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) options. Pros and cons were given for each baseline and alternate system, and a payback summary with gross capital investment, electric costs, total life-cycle savings, and more was included. In the end, Johnson Roberts Associates suggested that option three, a VRF (variable flow refrigerant) unit system, represented the most cost-effective solution by yielding approximately $141, 121 in savings over a 30-year period with an instant payback. 

At the end of July, the Town Building Committee released a more up-to-date budget with information about the additional funding necessary to complete base scope. In doing so, it compared the budget at SD (schematic design) with the newer DD (design development) budget. Key findings showed that there was a $1,383,987 decrease in construction costs from SD to DD — by far the most expensive portion of the budget, from $15,048,539 to $13,664,552 — that the re-use of historic barn elements, which was expected to be offset by CPA funding, was only allocated $50 thousand, and that there was a $10 thousand increase in administrative costs. Ultimately, the total base budget went from $17,534,795 at SD to $16,144,869 at DD, which signifies $1,389,926 in savings from the initial reading. The decrease in cost was primarily due to the overall reduction in building size by 2,000 square feet, the elimination of the storage area under the training room, and the change to the VRF unit system. 

In August, a Haz Mat survey was scheduled to be completed on the pre-construction use and management of property at 11 John Wise Avenue. There was also some interest by the public in removing some of the plants on the property. 

Next on the agenda for those who want to stay “in the know” on the progress of the public safety facility (or give input) is the upcoming public forums, which will be held in the two weeks leading up to the Special Town Meeting. The Town Building Committee will host the first public form on Thursday, September 12 at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall Auditorium. The following forum will be the next Tuesday, September 17, also at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Hall Auditorium. 

All of this discussion will accumulate in the Special Town Meeting, held on Monday, September 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Essex Elementary School.