2016-10-28 / Front Page

Public safety space is quite sparse

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton shows a landing by one of the stairwells that police use to fingerprint teachers and store items because of space constraints elsewhere in the building. Right, to save space, file cabinets have been built into the walls in the Oak Hill Fire Station. The fire department has long since outgrown the 52-yearold firehouse and, along with the police department, is hoping the public will approve a request for a new public safety building. (Michael Kelley photos) Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton shows a landing by one of the stairwells that police use to fingerprint teachers and store items because of space constraints elsewhere in the building. Right, to save space, file cabinets have been built into the walls in the Oak Hill Fire Station. The fire department has long since outgrown the 52-yearold firehouse and, along with the police department, is hoping the public will approve a request for a new public safety building. (Michael Kelley photos) It’s been nearly a decade since the town underwent the public safety building feasibility study, a document that has more or less untouched since then.

Last week, the town council voted to reignite the process by preliminarily forming an ad hoc public safety complex building committee to begin a renewed look at the need for a larger, and more updated public works facility.

Town Manager Tom Hall said an improved building for the police and fire departments was deemed the “highest priority” in the Municipal Facilities Plan the long range planning committee completed in early 2016.

Although a new building didn’t come out of the 2007 effort, there was a Public Safety Building Capital Improvement Account created at that time to fund the project, when, and if, it ever got off the ground. Scarborough Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow said the police and fire departments have carried a request for a new building in the capital improvement budget since 2002.

The committee was originally proposed to be made up of Thurlow, Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton, a member of the council, construction expert Rocco Risbara and three residents, including Bruce Bell, a call company firefighter and a former Portland Public Works employee who was instrumental in transforming Hadlock Field into a professional baseball stadium. Several councilors, as well as East Grand Avenue resident Joan Laurie, felt the group was too small and needed more public participation.


A committee will soon be formed to take another crack at creating a plan for a public safety building. The police portion of the building dates back to 1989 and the firehouse to 1964. Creating an updated facility has been talked about for years, but the project has yet to come the fruition due to delays because of more pressing projects – a new Wentworth school – or budget constraints. (Michael Kelley photo) A committee will soon be formed to take another crack at creating a plan for a public safety building. The police portion of the building dates back to 1989 and the firehouse to 1964. Creating an updated facility has been talked about for years, but the project has yet to come the fruition due to delays because of more pressing projects – a new Wentworth school – or budget constraints. (Michael Kelley photo) “In my opinion we should be opening it up,” Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said, adding she was a little concerned about Risbara and Bell’s name already being on the committee list even though the council has yet to officially form it.

Larry Hartwell, a resident of Puritan Drive, also questioned if it was right for Risbara to be part of the committee given that he regularly appears before the planning board for approval for his construction plans and was before the council last week seeking a zoning change for property his company owns at 79 Mussey Road.

Councilor Chris Caiazzo said it might be a smart idea to model the ad hoc public safety building committee after the Wentworth Building Committee, a 35-plus-member group that was subdivided into distinct subcommittees. Hall said he initially thought that group was too big to get anything done, but once work got underway, was proven wrong.

“As unruly as the Wentworth committee was, at the end of the day there was no doubt it was a full community effort. The more we can mimic that, the better,” Caiazzo said.

“The need is clearly there,” he continued. “That’s not the topic of debate tonight. It’s about how do it and how we approach it.”

Councilor Kate St. Clair said sometimes a smaller group is more effective, especially in the initial phases. Public participation is required to be part of the ad hoc committee’s work regardless of the committee’s size.

In the end, the committee’s membership was increased to 11 members, including six residents and two councilors.

The makeup of the committee will be worked on between now and when the council meets next in November. Aside from outlining the committee, the resolution the council accepted on first reading last Wednesday also provided guidance as far as what sort of work, or deliverables, are expected as a result. Hall said the group is expected to undertake a full site analysis of both private and public land, review both current and anticipated space needs, provide a conceptual design and a probable cost estimate.

“All of this is essential for us to build the case for the voters to ultimately consider,” Hall said.

The deadline for that work has been set for August 2017, at which time the committee will sunset unless the council extends the timeframe.

The committee would be provided with $50,000 from the Public Safety Building Capital Improvement Account to fund the work and bring in consultants throughout the process.

Moulton said there are “a lot of issues with the building,” including water damaged ceiling tiles, old worn out rugs and inefficient heating and cooling systems. That is not to mention space constraints, which causes storage to flow into the hallways, outdated locker room and lunchroom facilities, cramped storage of evidence and officers sharing workspaces. A number of staff positions, including a polygraph operator, crime analyst, video forensic specialist and school resources officer, have been hired since the police station addition was constructed in 1989, which further compounds a need for more space.

Space has become such a problem that the department has taken to storing some files in a satellite location in an undisclosed part of town and fingerprint teachers in a stairwell landing.

“We have tried moving things around and rearranging to maximize space. We are at that point where it isn’t possible anymore,” Moulton said this week. “This building was built in 1989 for 1989. Within a short period of time, we have outgrown it.”

The fire department has also long outgrown the Oak Hill firehouse, which was built in 1964. Much like with the police department, firefighters also deal with less than desirable working conditions.

Thurlow said Glenn Deering, the department’s deputy chief of operations, for example, works out of an old police station holding cell with no windows or ventilation. The conference table, where the department goes over plans with developers, is right next to the bathroom and a series of cabinets are built into the wall for storage.

One of the biggest things the firehouse lacks, Thur- low said, is bedrooms for live-in fire science students from Southern Maine Community College.

“This is our busiest station, but it’s the only one I don’t have any students in,” Thurlow said. The station does have four small bedrooms, but those are occupied by the emergency medical technicians and supervisors who work overnight.

St. Clair said a new space for police officers, firefighters and emergency responders is something that “desperately needs to be addressed and taken care of.”

Finding a way to improve the facility, she said, has been something that has been on her mind since she joined the council in 2012.

“My first week on council I took a tour of the building and I was mortified for them. It’s not just an aesthetics issues. It is a safety issue for them,” she said, highlighting a drainage issue in Moulton’s office in which a drainpipe empties into a trashcan as an example of why the departments need an updated facility.

The project to update the public safety building had taken a backseat to the project to replace the old Wentworth Intermediate School, something that was seen by the community as a bigger need. Now that the school has been rebuilt and open for two school years, the public safety project has returned to the top of the priority list.

The tricky part, councilors said, is fitting the need for the public safety building in with the other needs the town has over the next 25 years.

The Municipal Facilities Plan proposes approximately $48 million in proposed facility improvements, the largest being the new 43,400-square-foot public safety building ($13.4 million to $15.5 million), a 30,000-square-foot community center ($9.1 million to $10.5 million) and a 10,000-square-foot addition to the Scarborough Public Library ($4.5 million to $5.2 million).

The pubic safety building and library expansion were listed as needed within the next five years while the community center is a medium range project (within the next 15 years).

The school system has also undergone a long-range facilities plan, but school board Chairman Donna Beeley said there are no facility projects planned over the next five years, at least at this point. Councilor Peter Hayes said he would like to have confirmation of this before the second reading next month.

Beeley said the school board’s long range facility committee recently met and wants to have Dan Cecil, principal at Harriman, the architecture and engineering firm that help to produce the school district’s long range facility plan, make another presentation to the board, as well as connect with Town Planner Dan Bacon, Hall and chairman of the town council.

It is important, Beeley said, town officials know of the school district’s needs and the school district knows of the municipal needs.

“The right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing,” she said.

Although the ad hoc group will propose a location for the new fire and police departments, a site next to town hall – not far from the existing public safety facility – has been eyed as a potential location. Over the last few years, the town has been working to purchase the entirety of property, which fronts Route 1 and borders Sawyer Road.

Hall told the Leader in 2013 that even if the public safety building does not go there, purchasing the property is a smart investment for the town given its proximity to town hall and Memorial Park.

“Even if it doesn’t come to fruition, it makes sense to protect our assets as the town owns property next to and behind the site,” he said at the time.

The new public safety building will replace the Oak Hill firehouse, but not the other five firehouses that are located in Dunstan, North Scarborough, Pine Point, Black Point and Pleasant Hill areas of town. The town, Thurlow has said in the past, is geographically and demographically much to large to have just one central fire station.

Expansion of the Oak Hill firehouse is not the only facility improvement for the fire department in the Municipal Facilities Plan. Expansion projects at Dunstan and North Scarborough firehouses have been listed in the plan as medium term projects and the construction of a new firehouse in West Scarborough near Broadturn Road and Holmes Road has been listed among long-term projects.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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