2017-09-15 / Front Page

New building on the ballot

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The future of the public safety building will be in the hands of voters who will be heading to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 7 to decide if they support borrowing $19.5 million to construct a new public safety building next to town hall for the police, fire and emergency response departments.

The town council last week agreed to put the measure on the warrant for the November election, during which time voters will also fill three vacancies on the town council, three on the sanitary district and two vacancies on the board of education.

“We feel we have put together a solid plan and would like to put it before voters to see if they agree with us. That’s the best way to determine if we indeed have a good, solid plan,” said Kevin Freeman, chairman of the ad hoc public safety complex building committee.

The total project is expected to cost $21.5 million, but unused money from the public safety building reserve fund ($625,000) and revenue from the sale of the existing public safety building (estimated to be around $1.4 million) will reduce the amount of money the town needs to borrow. The project calls for the creation of a four-story building next to town hall where several rental homes sit today. The 53,000-square-foot building, which will be built into the topography, will include expanded space for the police and fire departments, as well as a 100- seat conference room that will be made available to the public.

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. The public entrance will face the town hall parking lot and the building will have access to Municipal Drive and Sawyer Road via a new connector road.

The fire department and police department have shared the existing facility since the late 1980s when the police addition was added. Since then, the departments have outgrown the space due to taking on additional work and hiring additional employees to meet the evolving public safety needs. The building lacks proper workspaces for many employees and has had a series of deferred maintenance in hopes a new facility is coming soon.

“The condition in which the current public safety building is leaves a lot to be desired,” said Judy Roy, a member of the ad hoc public safety complex building committee.

Roy knows what it is like to operate in an old building, remembering a time during her first term on council when the floor of the old town hall gave out during a meeting.

“We all walked to a table to look at some maps and the floor gave out underneath us and it dropped a foot,” she said. “I’ve been there and struggled with getting a new building. I took us two votes, I think, before we got the new town hall.”

The senior program advisory board has hoped to use the existing public safety building for meetings and activities, but backed off that idea after hearing concern from Police Chief Robbie Moulton and Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow about that prospect. Councilor Will Rowan, who serves as a liaison to the group, told the seniors it would be very difficult to convert the building to a senior meeting space and wasn’t in the town’s best interest to do so.

“It was met with a general disappointment, but acceptance,” Rowan said of the senior’s sentiment upon hearing the news. He said the group may turn its focus on renting a space somewhere else.

With the matter officially on the November ballot, a number of information sessions will be held at neighborhood fire stations between now and mid-October.

The first session was held at the Black Point Fire Station Sept. 7 and future sessions will be held at the Pleasant Hill Fire Station Tuesday, Sept. 19; North Scarborough Fire Station Monday, Oct. 2, Pine Point Fire Station Tuesday, Oct. 10 and Dunstan Fire Station Thursday, Oct. 12. The sessions, which begin at 6:30 p.m., will include information about the project, artistic renderings and architectural plans and a question/answer session. An open house will be held at the public safety building Saturday, Oct. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., during which time the public can see the space for themselves. The event will also include activities, food and events for all ages.

The council understands the need for the new facility, but there was some question at the meeting about how this project would gel with long-range facility plans the school department might have. The board of education has completed a long range facilities studies through the help of Harriman, an engineering and architecture firm based in Auburn and is looking into the possibility of renovating Scarborough Middle School and constructing a consolidated middle school somewhere on the municipal campus.

The renovation option for the middle school, which would include removing the modular classroom building, enlarging core spaces and constructing a two-story addition next to the gymnasium where parking exists now, could cost between $14 million to $18 million. A new consolidated middle school, possibly on a site between the middle school and Sawyer Road, could cost between $40 million and $50 million based on the size and cost of a school Harriman designed that was recently built in Corinth.

Superintendent Julie Kukenberger said the school department has applied for state funding from the Maine Department of Education’s Major Capital Improvement Program to deal with the facility issues at the middle school and three primary schools. Representatives from the Department of Education will visit the middle school in November. Kukenberger expects to hear back about the funding at the end of the school year. A major school project, Kukenberger said, won’t happen for at least another five years, even if money is awarded to Scarborough.

Rowan understands the issues plaguing the middle school, where his daughter will be entering in two years, but rates the public safety building as the top town facility project.

“It is an absolute need and not a want,” Council chairman Shawn Babine said.

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

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