2017-10-13 / In the Know

ABCs of public safety building project

By Kevin Freeman Special to the Leader

As the chairman of the ad hoc Public Safety Building Committee, I can assure Scarborough voters that the planning for the new building has been developed with an emphasis on delivering the best value for our taxpayers.

Our committee includes residents with extensive construction, energy, sustainability, public safety, and finance experience. We have met at least twice a month since November 2016 and toured recently-built public safety facilities in neighboring communities like Saco, Westbrook, Gorham, Brunswick and Topsham. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. We’ve drawn upon our professional backgrounds and experience as we’ve reviewed past feasibility studies including the 2008 study which served as the basis for this project.

Along the way, best practices have been observed and integrated into our thinking. We’ve also received input from respected design and engineering, public safety and commercial real estate consultants as we’ve fine-tuned this project ensuring that your tax dollars are spent wisely.

In the end, I am confident that this earnest team effort will deliver a quality cost-efficient project that will greatly benefit the citizens of Scarborough for years to come.

Our current public safety building has served us well since it was built in 1963 and later expanded in 1989 but it is a tired old building that is too small for today’s operations. Since that expansion some 28 years ago public safety calls for service have grown exponentially from 12,000 per year to almost 40,000 in 2016.

The departments have grown as well with fire, police and Emergency Medical Service duties such as school resource officers, cyber crime, video forensics and Operation Hope now demanding staff and space.

The aging of our population in Scarborough has led to an increase in the demand for EMS services too.

The building’s aging heating plant and mechanical systems have been literally held together for the past 10 years. The building also has code compliance challenges that require significant investment.

On top of all these concerns there’s the growing problem of emergency vehicles entering Route 1 at the high traffic Oak Hill intersection.

In a business where seconds matter our first responders battle traffic congestion on virtually every single call.

Our committee worked hard to develop a new building that is a cost-efficient investment. We demanded it be designed for the departments’ needs and not their wants. At our behest, design consultant Context Architecture emphasized flexibility in the floor layouts so future operational demands could be met without major renovation costs.

Our new building also includes an emergency operations and training center that is designed and sized to serve a dual function as a public meeting space for community groups. Our committee called for low maintenance, durable materials and sustainable energy-efficient systems that promote a healthy productive work environment with low operating costs. And when necessary, we ensured items like in-floor radiant heat in the apparatus bays and covered parking areas for the cruisers be utilized all in an effort to protect and extend the life of our fire trucks and public safety vehicles.

The building’s campus location assures rapid emergency response through the traffic signal controlled Sawyer Road intersection rather than direct access onto busy Route 1. At the same time, our plan improves intersections within the campus road network and increases parking for municipal park activities. The building and road network will serve the community for at least 25 years with the ability for future expansion.

This all sounds great, right? But can we afford to build it? I say, ‘Can we afford not to build it?’

Construction costs are rising dramatically and show no sign of easing or going down anytime soon. In 2008 Scarborough had a plan that would have cost $13.9 million for a 43,000-square-foot building ($321 per square foot). Today, almost 10 years later, our project cost is $21.5 million for a 53,000-square-foot building ($406 per square foot). However, if we wait until 2020 the costs will go up to $23.9 million for the same 53,000-square-foot building ($451 per square foot). When you consider interest rates for a 30-year bond are historically low at 3.5 percent in 2018 but targeted to rise to 4 percent sometime next year it reinforces the call to build now.

There’s been a lot of talk around town about Scarborough’s debt service, but our research shows that Scarborough’s debt service is well within industry standards. For the record, Scarborough has an AA3 credit rating from Moody’s and an AA+ from Standard and Poor’s which means the town has a very strong capacity to meet its financial commitments. Scarborough also has a vibrant local economy that is diverse and dynamic. We’ve added over 2,000 new jobs in the past decade and significant commercial real estate investment continues in our town. A new public safety building will only enhance our standing as one of the top communities to live and work in Maine spurring on more diversification and growth of our tax base.

Finally, Scarborough has taken a proactive approach to the project’s financing to reduce the impact of the project on taxpayers. As you know, this project was originally planned for 2008 and only deferred when the financial crisis hit. The property that had been purchased for a new building was sold and proceeds have been held in a reserve account that today totals $625,000. That sum along with the sale of the existing building, which once sold will become taxable commercial property, is conservatively valued at over $1.425 million reducing the dollar amount we need to borrow to $19.5 million.

That’s the dollar amount you will be voting for, $19.5 million. Your increase in taxes will average only $1.55 a week over the course of the 30-year bond. To me, that’s a small price to pay for safety and security in today’s world. Help them help us. Please vote yes on Nov. 7.

Kevin Freeman is chairman of the ad hoc Public Safety Building Committee.

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