2017-08-25 / Community News

New public safety building likely headed for Nov. ballot

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The town council will most likely put a question on the November ballot asking voters to approve a new $21.5 million public safety building, but a final decision on the subject won’t officially be made until early September.

The new proposed 53,000-square-foot building, which was designed by the ad hoc public safety complex building committee with the help of consultant Jeff Shaw of Context Architecture, has been a longtime desire for public safety professionals, who have long argued the current facility at 246 Route 1 is no longer meeting the police, fire and emergency service needs.

The referendum question would ask voters if they would approve bonding $19.5 million for the project. Town Manager Tom Hall recommends using $625,000 in public safety building reserve funds and an estimated $1.4 million in proceeds from the sale of the existing facility, to lessen the amount the town needs to bond for the project. With a maximum interest rate of 3.5 percent on a 30-year loan, the total project cost is estimated to be $29.4 million. The council will next discuss the topic Wednesday, Sept. 6.

The new public safety building is being proposed for a piece of town-owned property next to town hall that is now the site of several homes that are rented out.

“The location of the new fire station is limited by Insurance Services Office (ISO) standards for travel distance between stations and response time within the district served from this station,” public safety building committee chairman Kevin Freeman wrote in the final report, which was presented to the council earlier this summer. “We evaluated 12 different sites that were large enough to accommodate the proposed facility (including the current site) against a weighted scoring matrix analyzing 16 variables. The site on municipally owned land just west of town hall was the clear top scoring site.”

Councilor Chris Caiazzo was unsure at the Aug. 16 meeting if November was the right time to put this before voters.

“I support this project. There is a clear need. I am a little concerned about the compressed time frame between now and November, especially with the comprehensive plan update. We are asking a lot of people,” he said.

Councilor Kate St. Clair, a council representative on the public safety committee, shared that concern initially, but after speaking with Police Chief Robbie Moulton, Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow and Freeman, shifted to thinking November was the time to do it.

Construction costs and interest rates, she said, are apt to go up as time goes on.

“I think any delay (in putting this out to voters) is going to cost the town. I think the November ballot is appropriate,” councilor Bill Donovan said.

If November is deemed too soon, Hall said the vote could take place during the June primary/school referendum vote, if not sooner via a special election.

The problem with waiting until June he said is “there is a concern the momentum would be lost and we would have to rebuilt that.”

The council, however, decided last week to table the item until its first meeting in September to give time for Councilor Will Rowan to reach out to the seniors program advisory board, which has eyed the existing public safety building as a possible meeting space.

The seniors program advisory board has long looked for a place to get together, play games and socialize. It found a space in the new Wentworth School and more recently in a conference room at the Martin’s Point Healthcare facility, which opened at 153 Route 1 in January. Carol Rancourt, vice chairman of the group, said while seniors have been appreciative to Martin’s Point for allowing them to use the facility, they have in short time outgrown it. Her group, she told councilors, would like them to withhold the sale of the building so senior citizens can use it as a de facto senior citizen community center.

“We know it has its issues, but it has a lot more space available than we have anywhere else for seniors,” she said.

Moulton said he would caution against that because of the difficulty emergency responders have getting into and out of the facility, something that would be exasperated for senior citizens. Since a number of maintenance issues have been deferred over the years in hopes a new facility was coming soon, Moulton said “a number” of issues would have to be addressed before it could accommodate the general public. Thurlow said while the existing facility may not be able to accommodate senior, and other community groups, the proposed facility has a 100-seat conference room that would be made available to the public when not in use by the police or fire departments.

St. Clair is not convinced having seniors use the space is a wise choice. She said the public safety committee looked into using the existing site for a community/senior center, but it was determined there would not be enough parking and accessing the site would be problematic.

Hall said a subcommittee of the public safety building committee looked at how the building could best serve the town in its long-range facility needs.

“In that analysis, it was quite clear that site could not accommodate a community center that a community of this size would need,” he said.

In the end, the public safety building committee determined selling the building would be the best choice. The Scarborough Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) worked with a local broker to determine the value and potential sales price for the current facility. The town has assessed the property (made up of 246 Route 1 and 9 Fairfield Road) at $2.1 million (including a building value of $1.4 million). Based on recent sales and assessed values in the Oak Hill area, the building could be worth as much as $2.8 million, but that value would be contingent on “complete reuse of the building with very little investment in renovations.”

“Such a scenario is highly unlikely, if not impossible,” SEDCO executive director Karen Martin wrote in a July 11 correspondence to Freeman.

Martin wrote although the building has challenges, “we should not assume that the entire building would be torn down.”

“While the building may be able to be repurposed, it will take a creative approach,” Martin added.

According to feedback from possible investors, the building’s location in Oak Hill “an extremely marketable area” would drive potential, as would the brick fa├žade of the fire station. The TVC (town and village center zone) offers flexibility for mixed-use commercial and residential use.

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

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