BETHEL — The list of groups interested in space on the former Bisbee School property on Philbrook Street in Bethel is growing, and some have a renewed sense of urgency now that the Food Bank and District Exchange are pushing for a quick decision

At last week’s select board meeting, Dave Bean and Rick Savage followed up their previous proposal with a rough footprint and outline for the Food Bank/District Exchange building they’d like to see on the site.

“It’s just a quick site plan,” Savage added. “We went up there on Sunday and got 20 shots of the site. The building is rough, by Tony Andrews. These guys are donating their time. Nobody wanted to take money. He’s donating his time for this. So I think it’s going to be a good project overall.”

Bean noted that their proposed building is not located in the footprint of the current building, explaining that when the school is torn down it takes time for the land to settle, and they want to build as soon as possible. Their ask was for 3/4 of an acre “to be given or for there to be a nominal fee for the land,” Bean said.

Town manager Natalie Andrews researched the wording of the warrant regarding the Bisbee property in 2017 that authorized the town to “dispose of” the property but did not require it.

Given that, Savage said it seemed that the “selectmen are authorized to give the food pantry that land without any further action with the town.” He added that it was also evident from the 2017 vote that the town did not want to share the proceeds of the sale to the Recreation Department.


“Everything now is Rec Board, Rec Board, Rec Board,” Savage said. “We don’t want that right now. We’ve got enough with the schools,” Savage said. “We have enough fields around here that are not getting used all day. We don’t need that.”

David Hanscom of Bethel Rescue shared a presentation with the board that he says he previously gave to the town manager with the understanding that it was shared with the select board back April 2021.

“I had not been invited to come back in and discuss it any further,” Hanscom said, “so I assumed the board had no appetite for it then.”

“We are really space constrained,” he explained. “Our building consumes the entire plot of land that the town owns at that location. The generator the left of the stations is actually on railroad land that the town has to lease. The area where we usually park, it is my understanding is that space is actually a right of way for whoever owns the property behind. There is no way for us to expand.”

Inside the building, he explains that there is no room to remove the stretchers so they can wash the floor of the ambulance without striking the wall. If they wash outside, they are in the bicycle lane, creating a potential hazard.

Additionally, he predicts they will probably have to upgrade to ambulances with a truck-style nose in the near future to meet national standards, instead of the “box-style ambulance with the snub nose” that they run now, “which definitely won’t fit.” If they could fit a truck-style nose now, they could move to a four-wheel drive vehicle, he added. They have 37 members, who can’t all fit in the training room.


“Our piece of land is approximately .15 acres,” explained Hanscom, “versus an acre and a half or more [at the Bisbee property]. There isn’t another place in town. Once you get rid of it you will not find another lot in town. It’s just not going to happen, which is why we are suggesting the use of the space to accommodate our constraints and not have to go purchase land and still be centrally located.”

“I’m a taxpayer, I’ve lived here my entire life,” said Hanscom. “My interest is more in accommodating our emergency service but we’re trying to mindful of other town needs. There is enough space at that lot. If the town had the appetite for it, they could put a meeting room, in conjunction with the space we need and still have plenty of room for parking, etc. If not there, I don’t know where to move us when the time comes that we can no longer fit trucks in our station.”

Board member Frank Del Duca commented that some comprehensive planning would be appropriate.

“It would take a lot of planning and it would take a lot of research to know what we need,” he said. “We really need to think about what we need today and what we’ll need in the future. That’s the beginning of the conversation, to make a plan for what makes sense for that land. We should be solving issues that will last more than15 years out.”

Scott Cole, who was formerly on the school board, suggested the bus garage as a possible location.

“There’s been talk for years about a new bus garage,” Cole said, “and I believe the town takes possession if the district abandons it. It’s built for big vehicles. It’s got drawbacks, but it’s big, it’s in the right location. A busy location [referring to Bisbee] is not ideal for the ambulance. You’re in the village, a 24-hour operation, you’ve got sirens. Is that really what you want to do to the residents there in that neighborhood?”


The town voted down a new bus garage a few years ago, but he said the need remains, and there is still some interest in relocating the garage to the property next to Telstar.

Andrews clarified that the town would have to vote to accept the property if the district relinquishes it. Del Duca, who also served on the school board, said revamping the bus garage would likely cost far less than constructing a new ambulance building. Both facilities are quickly running out of space.

Hanscom cautioned the use of the bus garage property, wondering what the flood history of the property is and did not think it wise to put an emergency service in a flood plain and didn’t think it fair to characterize their presence in town as blaring lights and sirens at 2 a.m.

“I will be the unpopular person in the room if necessary,” said Hanscom, asking about the long term plan for the town office, “because that has been debated for years,” he added. “There is no parking that belongs to the town here, and we need to dump a lot more money in before it can accommodate anything else, and we still have no place for a town meeting or voting to happen. We still have to go to other spaces.

“At some point we should really consider how we’re going to handle our space constraints, and there happens to be town-owned land right now that could accommodate that, to look at all needs. I would just really encourage the board to look at all the needs of the town before they make a commitment to anybody.”

“We will,” agreed Swain, who chaired the meeting in Lloyd Sweetser’s absence.


The board discussed what long-term planning had been done in the past, mentioning the Heart and Soul project.

The town chose to do that as opposed to another comprehensive plan update, said Meryl Kelly. “The last time the comprehensive plan was updated was a long time ago, and in my opinion it needs to be updated.”

Andrews said that she’s asked to see the comprehensive plan but has not been able to locate a copy. Kelly was enthusiastic about working on a new comprehensive plan. Del Duca noted that the town now has a new town manager and hoped that the public would have some confidence that together they will find solutions, but that it takes time.

“A comprehensive plan is the taxpayer’s comprehensive plan,” said Andrews. “It’s very thoughtful, and it’s time consuming. You put out an extensive survey to see where their priorities are, and you break that down. Then you work from there. When you keep putting things off, as we have with wastewater treatment right now, instead of spending wisely early, it’s painful.”

Hanscom offered to provide the board with more detailed information about the needs for the Bethel Rescue Department. The select board meets next on October 19 at 6 pm.

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