2017-11-10 / Front Page

Voters OK public safety building

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The voters have spoken and after more than a decade of hoping and waiting, Scarborough firefighters, police officers and emergency responders will soon have a new place to call home.

Voters approved a $19.5 million bond to construct a new public safety building next to town hall.

“I am pleased. We knew this was going to be a tough battle. It’s a lot of money and we recognize that,” Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton said Wednesday morning. “To the 3,000 people who voted against it, I’d say, just because it passed doesn’t mean we won’t still make every effort to be as cost efficient as we can.”

Mary Bristol was one of the 3,466, or 53.6 percent of voters who approved building the new public safety building.

“I think it is important for to have adequate space and up to date equipment for the folks that are keeping our community safe.”

Susan Williams supported taking on the bond even though she was not totally sold on the proposal.

“I did vote for it. I am not 100 percent sure it is a good idea, but we need it. We are growing and getting bigger all the time,” she said.

The proposal approved by voters on Tuesday was created by the ad hoc public safety complex building committee with the help of Jeff Shaw, Context Architecture principal and president. The committee, made up of Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow, Moulton, town councilors Kate St. Clair and Peter Hayes, construction expert Rocco Risbara and residents Judy Roy, Kevin Freeman, Roger Chabot, Greg Hanscom, Rick Meinking, Dave Libby and Susan Hamill, was formed in November 2016 to recommend a site and come up with cost estimates and a preliminary plan.

Moulton and Thurlow have said over and over in the past that police, fire and rescue personnel have simply outgrown the current facility at 246 Route 1 as they have taking on more work and hired additional staff to meet the changing industry. The space that is provided is cramped with the break room doubling as a place for staff to eat lunch, store files and conduct intoxication tests. A number of the offices lack windows and proper ventilation, including Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Deering, who works out of an old holding cell. Storage has spilled into the hallways, fingerprinting is done at the bottom of a stairwell and marine resource samples are stored underneath that stairwell because of a lack of space elsewhere. A number of maintenance project have been delayed in anticipation of a new facility eventually. The chiefs have said it is often difficult to get in and out of the property because of traffic congestion on Route 1. The new building won’t have that same concern because responders will be able to access it from Durant Drive or Sawyer Road.

The total cost of the project sits at $21.5 million, but the town will need to only bond $19.5 million thanks to a pool of money in the public safety building reserve account ($625,000) and proceeds from the sale of the current public safety building (an estimated $1.4 million). With an anticipated maximum interest, the project is estimated to cost $29.4 million over the course of the 30-year bond.

That kind of financial burden was not something Scott Libby thought the town should take on, at least right now.

“In Scarborough we’ve had too much spending in the last few years,” he said as he exited the polls Tuesday. “I know something needs to get done, but I don’t like being scared that is it just going to cost us more in the future.

Dana Ricker, one of the 3,000, or 46.3 percent of voters who rejected the bond request, said he needed more information before he can fully support the project.

“I’d like to have more information about it, more detail, more expense information. Especially in these tight budget times we have now, I don’t see a need for expanding or building a new building at this point in time,” he said.

The passage at the polls ends years of anticipation for a new facility. The existing site was last updated in 1989 when the police station was added to the back of the firehouse and a new addition was constructed to house an additional vehicle bay and sleeping quarters for emergency staff.

A new public safety building was proposed in fiscal year 2002, but the project was pushed back five years because the high school was in dire need of renovation. The high school renovation was completed in 2005 and two years later, in 2007, Gawron-Turgeon was hired to dust off the old plan and look into the possibility of renovating/ expanding the public safety building.

The town looked into purchasing available land and property for the project, both next to the existing facility and on Commerce Drive. Siting the new public safety building on the Commerce Drive site fell through in 2008, new ownership at Maine Veterans Home nixed the idea of a land swamp. The public safety building committee at the time began looking at other possible locations. Those sites included land on Route 1 (the current home of Biddeford Savings Bank, Starbucks and Bellavita), Gorham Road (between Hannaford Drive and the Oaks housing development), the former Orion Center and Danish Village locations, land by Scarborough Downs and today’s proposed site.

Due to the loss of the Commerce Drive site, the Great Recession and the need to construct a new Wentworth School (which opened in 2014), the public safety building proposal was again put on hold until early 2016 when the building was listed as the top municipal facility need in the town’s Municipal Facilities Plan.

“I am all for it,” said Carl Ahlquist, who served as a member of the rescue department in the 1980s during high school and the years after. “I think it is long overdue.”

Moulton said the next step is to formalize the design plans and hire a construction manager. The hope is to begin site work this summer and have a foundation laid by November 2018, with the hope of the project being completed by the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020.

At the polls, voters also voted on a number of state referendums – dealing with a casino in York County, Medicaid expansion, transportation bond and pension system constitutional amendment – and elected new town council and school board members. Hillory Durgin (2,928 votes) and Leanne Kazilionis (2,722), two newcomers to local politics were added to the school board, besting a field of four that included Christie Lee McNally (2,365) and Rebel Douglas (1,634).

Voters decided to retain two incumbent councilors Peter Hayes (3,340 votes) and Shawn Babine (2,929 votes), but chose former councilor Jean-Marie Caterina for the third seat over incumbent Kate St. Clair, who had served on the council for the last five years. Caterina, who served one term on the council from 2013 to 2016, finished with 3,185 votes to St. Clair’s 2,497. Timothy Downs (2,142) and Benjamin Howard (1,838) also had strong support at the polls.

Scarborough Sanitary District treasurer Jason Greenleaf and chairman Charles Andreson were returned to the Board of Trustees and will be joined by Judith Cavalero, who finished 164 votes ahead of Rob McSorley, who has served as a trustee for the last nine years.

The results will be considered unofficial until certified by the town council on Nov. 15.

Town Clerk Tody Justice said the newly elected members of the town council will be sworn in at the council’s Dec. 6 meeting. The board of education members, who next meet on Nov. 16, can be sworn in as soon as the town council certifies the results.

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

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