2017-06-23 / Front Page

Crowded house plagues public safety

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Members of the public got their first look at the proposed new public safety building, which would be located next to town hall and provide expanded space for the police and fire departments, which share the overcrowded facility further north on Route 1. (Image courtesy of Context Architecture) Members of the public got their first look at the proposed new public safety building, which would be located next to town hall and provide expanded space for the police and fire departments, which share the overcrowded facility further north on Route 1. (Image courtesy of Context Architecture) From a rain gutter flowing into Police Chief Robbie Moulton’s office to inadequate work spaces with no windows or ventilation to a lack of proper storage space, members of the town’s fire department and police department know full well the two departments have long since outgrown the facility they have been sharing since 1989.

Since December, the Ad Hoc Public Safety Complex Building Committee, a group of residents, officials and construction professionals, have been working, with consultant Jeff Shaw, principal of Boston-based Context Architecture, to create a preliminary design, site work and cost estimates for a new public safety building.


Scarborough Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow explains the plans for a new public safety building to a group of residents last week at the Oak Hill fire station as public safety building committee member Susan Hamill jots down the group’s questions and comments. The committee’s recommendation is expected to be reviewed by the town council July 19. (Michael Kelley photo) Scarborough Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow explains the plans for a new public safety building to a group of residents last week at the Oak Hill fire station as public safety building committee member Susan Hamill jots down the group’s questions and comments. The committee’s recommendation is expected to be reviewed by the town council July 19. (Michael Kelley photo) Kevin Freemen, chairman of the building committee, said Context was chosen among the nine firms interested in designing the new facility because it has designed the Westbrook Public Safety Building and Brunswick Police Department.

The 53,000-square-foot facility, which is proposed to be located next to town hall on Route 1, is estimated to cost $20.4 million.

The public got its first look the plans last week during a meeting at the public safety building after getting an opportunity to see the space for themselves. The crowd also broke into small groups to discuss the project.

“Our group felt the need is very clear. This project, we’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” said Susan Hamill, a member of the building committee in sharing her small group’s reaction to Context Architecture’s plans. “The building is really showing its age, but we are concerned about the cost.”

Judy Roy, a building committee member said her group was also concerned with the cost and what it might mean for the town’s bond level.

“It’s time. We need this kind of building for the most part. It’s been evident for a long time,” she said.

“We need to get more information about the debt and the town’s debt service in considering the need,” she added.

Town Manager Tom Hall said the number one concern of council is whether this is the right time to borrow the money to do the project.

“That will be fully explored,” he told Roy.

Rocco Risbara, also a member of the building committee, said the group he sat with was “very supportive” but concerned with how to get the word out regarding the need for a new public safety space.

“The more people we can put through here, the better we can sell the plan, because the need is obvious when you walk though the building,” he said.

Freeman said the committee ended up recommending the site adjacent to town hall after vetting a dozen locations between Scarborough Downs Road and just north of Oak Hill. The committee looked at two versions of the existing site: doing nothing and expanding it, something that would mean the town would have to secure abutting property. Shaw said locating it next to town hall proved to be the best site location, plus it provided an opportunity to tap into the tri-generation facility, which provides for town hall’s electricity, heating and cooling needs.

The new site is designed to give the departments more space. Moulton said the current facility, approximately 20,750 square feet, has cramped bed rooms for the firefighters, a conference table in the fire department that is just outside the bathroom and a police lunch room that doubles as the place where intoxilyzer tests occur.

“At any given time, people are in there doing a test, trying to get files, trying to eat lunch – a variety of things at once. It is not a good situation,” Moulton said.

The police department is so cramped for space, finger printing is done right next to a stairwell and marine resource officer’s water samples are stored underneath that same stairwell.

Space constraints aside, Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow said getting into and out of the facility, located at 246 Route 1, is increasingly more difficult as traffic congestion in the Oak Hill intersection worsens.

“A big concern for anyone who works in the building or traveled through Scarborough is the access and egress issue. Being in such close proximity to Oak Hill is a problem, especially this time of year,” Thurlow said.

The new facility has been designed to not have access or egress on Route 1, but rather via a connector road to Sawyer Road or Durant Drive, which cuts through Memorial Park. Shaw said the new building is designed to be four stories: a basement, mezzanine, first and second floor, but won’t look that big because of the topography of the site. The basement would include the bays for fire apparatus, fitness space, evidence storage, booking and locker rooms. The mezzanine level – the highest point of the basement – will house the boiler and electrical spaces, room for SWAT team storage and weapons cleaning and room for future police and fire department expansion. The first floor would include the public entrance, training room for staff or the public, dispatch, fire department kitchen, dining room and bedrooms, as well as work space for patrol officers. The second floor would include space for investigations and detectives, as well as police and fire administration, the staff lunch/break room and conference room. The plan also includes a covered parking area for police cruisers. Although a separate and still unreviewed project, Context’s site plan shows a senior recreation area complete with pickleball courts, bocce courts and a pavilion behind town hall where the skate park is. The skate park, however, is expected to remain in that location. Town hall’s front parking lot would be expanded as part of the public safety project.

Shaw said the committee first looked at making the building larger (60,000 square feet), but ultimately settled on 53,000 square feet.

“After six drafts, we compressed it down to provide for the real need that is there,” he said.

The new building, Moulton said, will be designed to accommodate future fire and police growth.

“We aren’t trying to create an elaborate building, but at the same time, it is important to think of what our needs will be,” Moulton said.

Since the fire station was built in 1964 and the building was expanded in 1989 to accommodate the police department’s move from the old town hall, both departments have grown and changed.

Thurlow said in 1968, the police department had seven full-time employees. By 1989 that had grown to 34 and now stands at 60. By 2041, that number is expected to rise to 85. The fire department’s full-time employees stood at six in 1989 and will grow to 63 by 2041. There are 31 today. Calls for police service grew from 1,540 in 1968 to 35,655 today to an estimated 65,763 in 2041. Demand for fire response has risen from 628 in 1968 to 1,440 in 1989 to 3,904 in 2016 and an anticipated 8,420 in 2041.

Moulton said since the two departments came under one roof in 1989, they have taken on a variety of things that weren’t a large part of the work back then including: fire student live-in program, hazardous material response, community paramedic services, technical rescue, Operation HOPE (Heroin-Opiate Prevention Effort), human trafficking, polygraph services, cyber crime, video forensics, K9 program, evidence processing, mental health services and identity theft. A number of positions have also joined the force since then, such as safety and compliance officer, emergency medical services billing clerk, records clerk, community resource officer and school resource officer.

“All of these things are things that weren’t there when we moved into the building that all take space,” Moulton said, adding when the police department moved into the reconfigured site “all the seats were filled.”

Improving the public safety space has been a long-term project. The idea was first suggested in fiscal year 2001, but was pushed back several years due to the high school renovation project, which was completed in 2005. The idea was brought up again and Gawron-Turgeon Architects was hired in 2007 to do a space needs assessment and look into the feasibility of renovating/expanding the current site. It was determined that expanding at the current location was not feasible after securing two Fairfield Avenue properties for sale at the time was cost prohibitive.

Gawron-Turgeon developed a conceptual plan for locating a new public safety building on land on Commerce Drive. That plan fell through in April 2008. The building committee at the time looked at other sites, including land on Route 1 between Citgo and Hannaford Drive (where Starbucks, Biddeford Savings Bank and Bellevita are today), land on Gorham Road between Hannaford Drive and Pin Oak Drive, the former Orion Center at 301 Route 1 and the old Danish Village site between the Big 20 bowling alley and the Holy Donut (now being developed by Southern Maine Hospice). The committee also looked at locating a new facility on Scarborough Downs property and the site now being looked at.

After the Commerce Drive site fell through and with greater facility needs at Wentworth Intermediate School, the new public safety building plan was pushed back again.

In August 2008, the town sold land on Commerce Drive to Maine Veterans Home for $1.8 million, which was put into the public safety reserve account, $50,000 of which is funding the planning work. The account has a $619,433 balance.

In 2015-2016, a town-wide facilities study was conducted and identified a new public safety space as the most pressing municipal need.

It is not yet known what would happen to the current site, if a new building were constructed next to town hall. Thurlow said the building committee asked acting town planner and Scarborough Economic Development Corporation director Karen Martin to get a commercial broker to come in and appraise the building. That appraisal is not in yet, but Thurlow said there is reason to be hopeful.

“We were encouraged in hearing the broker felt there was a reuse potential for the building. We already knew the land had value,” he said.

Selling the building, he said, may not be the best option. The town will also look into the potential of repurposing the building to perhaps meet another municipal facility need.

The building committee is scheduled to have its final report out to the town council on Wednesday, July 19 at 7 p.m.

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

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