Broadband build begins

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 5:00pm

Installation of a telecommunication building that will contain equipment for the Town of New Shoreham’s broadband network has commenced. The construction activity signals the first steps of building a broadband network on Block Island.

Construction of the building and its generator, which are part of the Community Anchor Institution initiative, began after the town was granted unanimous final approval for a special use permit by the Zoning Board of Review on Sept. 26. Board member Susan Bush made the motion that was seconded by Vice Chair Kate Butcher. Chair Elizabeth Connor was absent.

Town Finance Director Amy Land, who has shepherded the project, said the budgeted cost for the prefabricated building is $214,778, and includes $7,000 for its transport to the island. The cost of the generator is $52,100. The telecom building and the generator are included in the $675,000 budget, and will be installed on property located directly behind the police station. Land said that previously committed financial contributions from the Block Island School, Medical Center and Island Free Library “totaling $125,000 reduce the total project cost to $550,000.”

Land said the broadband network will be built using four of eight fiber optic strands in National Grid’s sea2shore cable to provide broadband for the CAI network. The town is leasing the fiber at $1 per year for a 20-year period. Expansion to accommodate an island-wide fiber network will occur at a later date.

At the Zoning Board meeting, Town Manager Ed Roberge detailed plans for the 230-square-foot, almost 10-foot tall utility-only building that will be situated on the northeast corner of the lot where the police station resides. Roberge said the town has been granted “favorable advisories” from the Conservation Commission, the Planning Board, a “Certificate of Appropriateness” from the Historic District Commission, and approval from the Land-Use Officer for the project.

“It’s a precast concrete telecom building appropriately sized for our needs now, which is the first deployment of the Community Anchor Institution broadband fiber backbone system,” said Roberge. “It’s one structure that will serve all of the needs of the island.”

Roberge said the HDC requested that the proposed building’s façade “have a gray-brick color, as opposed to a red-brick color.” He said it will be an electric-only building, with an adjacent generator residing on a concrete slab; that there will be no significant negative impact on natural resources; and no water and sewer utilities.

Zoning board member Judith Cyronak asked Roberge when the generator would be used to power the building.

“It will only be used during a power outage condition,” said Roberge. The town’s Facilities Manager Sam Bird said the generator would run a “15 to 20 minute exercise cycle” once per week. “It has an acoustic enclosure.”

Butcher asked if the town would have to “come back” and seek approval for another building to accommodate the fiber build for the island-wide network.

“I would hope not. No,” said Roberge, who noted that the town was ready to move forward with building the facility. “We’re ready to go. We’re seeking approval to advance the project.”

The project was approved unanimously (6-0) by the Zoning Board after Susan Bush read her findings of fact, and noted some stipulations. 

Bush began by stating that the building and its generator will be installed “on plat 5 lot 20 in a mixed-use district. The building will house equipment necessary to provide connectivity between National Grid’s (fiber optic embedded cable) and the Town of New Shoreham’s broadband network. The delivery of broadband connectivity to the Community Anchor Institutions is a priority of the Town of New Shoreham.”

Bush said the “precast concrete equipment building” will be low impact, installed on a concrete slab, and surrounded by crushed stone for stormwater runoff control. She said the generator will sit adjacent to the building on a concrete slab and enclosed “in an appropriate weather-resistant structure. All of the utilities will be buried, and no variances are required.”

Bush noted the project’s favorable advisories, and said, “There will be no negative impact on traffic, emergency access, soil, drainage, waste disposal,” and the facility “will not adversely impact the established use and character of the surrounding neighborhood.”  

As for stipulations, Bush said the project “must be in substantial conformance with the site plan that was submitted,” and “meets the standards established under section 401 for a special use permit.” 

Sam Bird told The Times after the meeting that, “This is huge for the island. We’re moving forward — the contracts are being finalized.” Bird said the CAI network’s fiber optic cables would be strung during a three to four week period in November. The utility building will be delivered by the end of November. 

“By early December we should have the building in place, and the fiber hung,” said Bird. “We’re shooting for having the CAI project completed by the first of the year. We may not hit it dead on the money, but I think we’ll be close.”

The next Zoning Board meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 5 p.m.