Cost of police station project rises

An additional training facility recommended by the Finance Committee
By Seth Thomas | Sep 21, 2015
A rendering of the renovated police station. The project would renovate the existing structure on 249 Russells Mills Road.

The estimated cost of rebuilding the police station has increased to $8.4 million.

The Select Board approved the new estimate on Monday night at the recommendation of the Finance Committee and the Police Building Committee. The Capital Improvement Committee approved the recommendation on Tuesday. Next month, Town Meeting members will be asked to approve the project.

The initial estimate came in at $7.3 million, costing the average residential taxpayer about $35 a year in additional taxes for the next 20 years. Town Administrator David Cressman said that the $35 annual tax hike would remain below $40 with the new price tag.

Officials plan to ask voters to pay for the new station through a “debt exclusion” from the tax-limiting Proposition 2½ allowing taxes to increase above the limits until the town has repaid money borrowed to pay for the station.

The plan to renovate the existing building, which is favored by the Police Building Committee, is cheaper than a $12 million option to build an entirely new station.

The Russells Mills Road building was closed when the bacterium legionella was found in the hot water system after an officer became ill with Legionnaires’ disease. Since then, the department has operated out of a modular building located on the property.

The new training facility was recommended by the Finance Committee after an extensive look at the plans. The committee recommended that an addition be added to the plans to accommodate for training space. The cost for the addition is estimated at $400,000.

In the initial design, the modular building would have been used, in part, as a training facility.

“[The Finance Committee] talked about whether that building could take the abuse that goes along with training,” said Cressman.

Cressman said the committee thought it would be better to add a training facility during the initial phases of the project rather than asking for more funding from Town Meeting members a decade from now.

“The original scheme had provisions for a five-bay garage for evidence and police equipment,” said Acting Police Chief Robert Szala. “The [Finance Committee] thought of adding an addition to this garage that would last 40 to 50 years. The modular buildings aren’t going to last forever. They’re not constructed that way.”

“Would the modular suffice? Yes, but for a shorter period of time, not the span of the building,” he said.

Szala said another factor is the cost of training. For the past two years, officers have spent 40 hours a year training at a facility in Swansea. While training at the other facility is free, the cost of commuting costs $6,000 annually.

While Select Board member Frank Gracie expressed support for the project, he said he was disappointed that there wasn’t a clear plan for the modular building in lieu of the new addition.

The modular building became the operations hub for the precinct after the main building was vacated in 2014.

“I hope you can find something to do with the modular because we paid $800,000. I don’t want to see it sit there and rot. That would be a waste of taxpayer money,” said Gracie.

He also raised concerns with the glass lobby, which said has become a point of contention among some citizens.

“Unless we’re planning on growing tomatoes in there, it doesn’t have a real function,” he said.

Szala remained optimistic that the modular building could be used in the future for a variety of purposes. He suggested it could even be used as a community space for meetings. Select Board chair Shawn McDonald agreed that the space could be repurposed.

“Whether we use it for training, classrooms or community gatherings, I think we can find a purpose for it,” said McDonald.

Select Board member Stanley Mickelson said that, while he understands that not everyone will support the project, he urged that taking action is the right thing to do.

“We have to do it now because it’s not $8.4 million in three or four years. It’s going to be quite a bit more than that,” said Mickelson.

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