Historical Commission votes to preserve old police station

Jul 11, 2023

To the excitement of community members in attendance, the Historical Commission voted to “preferably preserve” the former Dartmouth Police Station at 249 Russells Mills Road at their July 10 meeting.

According to the commission, they will have six months to plan with town officials what will happen to the property.

This comes after Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes requested in April to demolish the police station, which is owned by the town. In May, the town put out a call for contractors to demolish the two-and-a-half story building, which is listed at 21,000 square feet and has two garage structures in the rear.

Officials determined that the building cannot be reused, MacInnes said previously. Costs to build housing on the site would be “prohibitive’’ to either the town or a private developer, he said.

The Historical Commission stepped in and marked the building as historically significant and not eligible for destruction, a choice supported by many community members at the July 10 meeting.

“We have an opportunity here to do something right in this town” by saving the building, said Diane Gilbert, president of the Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust.

The building was first built in 1926 and served as Dartmouth’s Town Hall.

It eventually became the town’s police station, and was left unoccupied after legionella bacteria was found in the pipes in 2014. An officer became sick that year with what was diagnosed as Legionnaires Disease, which is caused by the bacteria. The building has since been vacant.

The police department worked out of a building in the rear lot until the current station on Slocum Road opened in 2019.

“In my opinion as a developer and as a designer, it is a horrible use of tax funds to tear that building down,” Christian Gwozdz-Silveira, a Designer at South Coast and Associates, said at the meeting. “As a builder, the shell of that building alone is probably worth over a million dollars.”

There was some discussion at the meeting about the timeline from when MacInnes submitted his demolition permit request, the Historical Commission deeming the building historically significant, and the Historical Commission alerting the building commissioner of the change.

A letter drafted by town counsel Anthony Savastano states that the Historical Commission did not alert the building commissioner within 15 days, per the bylaws, so he believes that “the Historic Commission will no longer have jurisdiction over this matter and the town can proceed with demolition.”

The Historical Commission said the claim holds no weight because they were within the disputed time frame.

MacInnes was not able to attend the July 10 meeting due to a scheduling conflict with the Select Board meeting.

Previously, he has said “there's really no productive use for the building” and it has “internal and external’’ issues.

Community members at the meeting had ideas about the building’s future. Harry Booth said it could become a historical center for the town acting almost as a Dartmouth museum. Some Historical Commission members said it could be turned into housing.

“That property has potential to be a campus for something like senior housing,” said Bob Smith, a Historical Commission member. “It could be like an endpoint for the Village of Padanaram.”