2017-07-28 / Front Page

Public safety complex plans turned over to town council

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The proposal for a new public safety building next to town hall was presented to town councilors last week. The project, estimated to cost $21.5 million, may go before town voters as early as November for approval. (Courtesy photo) The proposal for a new public safety building next to town hall was presented to town councilors last week. The project, estimated to cost $21.5 million, may go before town voters as early as November for approval. (Courtesy photo) Six years after voters approved a project to reconstruct Wentworth Intermediate School, the town council is expected to bring a new construction project to voters, perhaps as soon as this November.

Last week, the Ad Hoc Public Safety Complex Building Committee, a 13-member committee formed in November, presented its final design plans and cost estimates to the Scarborough Town Council.

The committee is made up of Bruce Bell, Susan Hamill, Judy Roy, Kevin Freeman, Roger Chabot, Greg Hanscom, Rick Meinking and Dave Libby. Police Chief Robbie Moulton, Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow, construction professional Rocco Risbara and Councilors Peter Hayes and Kate St. Clair are also part of the committee.

The plan calls for a 53,000-square-foot building to be located next to town hall on town-owned property that now houses rental homes. The project is estimated to cost $21.5 million, which includes $17 million in construction costs, $2.8 million in soft costs (testing, furnishings, equipment, information technology, etc.) and $1.7 million in contingency.

As a comparison, the construction cost for the combined 35,000-square-foot public safety building in Topsham in 2007 was $15 million, the 42,000-square foot public safety building in Westbrook cost $6 million to build in 2005 and the 23,000-square-foot Saco Fire Station, cost $6 million to built in 2011.

The cost for the Scarborough proposal is similar to combined public safety buildings recently constructed in Mansfield, Massachusetts ($18 million) and Sharon, Massachusetts ($17.7 million).

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.

Freeman, the committee chairman, said the site chosen was one of 12 the committee considered. The site, he said, had to be within one square mile of Oak Hill in order to meet fire response standards. The committee did look at expanding at the current site as well as leaving one department in the current facility and putting the other one in a smaller, and less expensive new building, but ultimately nixed both ideas.

“Once we could decide where to put the building, it spurred everything else,” he said. To get a feel for how other public safety buildings are set up, Freeman and his committee members visited facilities in Brunswick, Gorham, Saco, Topsham and Westbrook.

Jeff Shaw, a principal of Context Architecture who serves as a consultant for the project, said the committee went through seven drafts of the plan before settling on the one presented to councilors.

“That was essential to figure the cost of the building that represents the needs, not the wants, the desires or anything else,” he said.

The plan for the building, which has the support of both Moulton and Thurlow, will be designed to accommodate the two departments as they continue to grow. Projections estimate the fire department will expand to 63 full-time personnel and respond to 8,420 calls for service by 2041 and the police, which will stand at 85 full-time personnel will respond to 65,763 calls, 30,000 more calls than in 2016.

“We are going to be a much busier department in the future,” Thurlow said.

Moulton and Thurlow, for years, have said the current facility at 246 Route 1 has long been inadequate due to space constraints and poor working environments. The two departments have been operating in the space since 1989 when an addition was built on the rear of the Oak Hill firehouse for the police department. One of the issues at the current facility, Thurlow said, is getting in and out of the property due to Oak Hill intersection congestion, especially in times of emergency. The new site will be accessed off Sawyer Road, or through Municipal Drive, giving responders, as Shaw said, an option of which way to enter and exit the building which will lead to faster response times. Thurlow said because the project has been on the horizon for so long, only to get pushed back due to more pressing facility needs, “we have deferred a lot of maintenance and improvements thinking this was coming along (soon).”

Moulton said the two departments have simply run out of room in the existing building due to the growth of both the departments and the services they provide over the years. Since 1989 when the police began working in the building, things like the student live-in program, Operation HOPE (Heroin and Opiate Prevention Efforts), cyber crime, video forensics, the K9 program, polygraph services and evidence processing weren’t a part of police services and the department didn’t have a safety and compliance officer, school resource officers, community resource officer or a records clerk.

“These are things that have happened in the last 27 years. I anticipate in the next 25 we will have a whole new list,” Moulton said.

These extra services and personnel has led to a space crunch that has meant windowless offices with no ventilation for some workers, a lunch room that doubles as a place for file storage and intoxilization tests. The fire department lacks a proper conference room and fingerprinting and storage of water samples for the harbormaster is delegated to underneath a stairwell leading to the second floor.

“Everywhere you go up and down the building there are fax machines, copiers, tables and bookcases and all kinds of things that shouldn’t be where they are,” Moulton said noting there are code violation in the building as a result.

When and if the new building is constructed, it will not only mean a new facility for the public safety departments, but also could mean the selling of the current facility. Freeman said the site could accommodate a 30,000 to 40,000-square-foot community center – considered a mid-term (5 to 15 years) municipal facility need – but not the required parking. Because of that, the idea for potential reuse was nixed. It is likely the building will be sold.

“Our community felt the sale of the building is the highest and best use of the property,” Freeman said. “We felt proceeds from the sale and money from the public safety reserve account be used to reduce the total bond amount for the new facility.”

“There is interest in our existing facility from developers who are experienced redevelopers of similar masonry block buildings,” he added.

With last week’s report to the council, the original charge of the ad hoc committee has been fulfilled and the group was set to be disbanded. The council, however, decided to keep the committee intact until after the November election after being told by Freeman that the 13-member committee unanimously supported continuing on.

“My hunch is this building is inevitable whether (we put it out to voters) this November or next June. We have a group of people of willing and capable residents that want to continue,” Town Manager Tom Hall said.

Councilor Peter Hayes said the group “only adds tremendous value to the project.”

“It’s an incredibly gifted group of people. I’ve seen a lot of groups and committees and I haven’t met on like this in my six years (on the town council). These are people really invested in this building,” St. Clair said.

The council is expected to decide next month whether to put the project out to voters at the November election. Between now and when the vote is held, the committee will be tasked with educating the public about the project, how it was designed and what it hopes to accomplish.

“November is a very aggressive time frame and it will take all hands on deck if we are going for that,” said councilor Chris Caiazzo.

Freeman said due to the need for the building, future cost escalation and low interest rates, the committee recommends putting the project out to voters in November.

“It’s been a real honor to serve the community in this way. We had a ball. When we first looked at it, we thought ‘how are we going to get to July 19,’” Freeman said. “We are very proud of the project.”

Aside from renovations projects at the Dunstan and Black Point firehouses in the late 1990s, there has not been a large public safety construction project since the police wing and an additional apparatus bay, day room and bunk rooms were added to the Oak Hill Firehouse in 1989.

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

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