Opinion: This game is rigged! Thoughts on the former police station

Nov 3, 2023

At its October 30 meeting, the Dartmouth Select Board entertained the Historical Commission once again, this time to consider whether to approve a feasibility study on the potential reuse of the former police station. This visit afforded the Commission an opportunity to update the public about its progress to save the building from the wrecking ball. 

The Select Board chair wasted no time in correcting the Commission chair stating that what was being requested was a “study,” not a “feasibility study.” Why is the term feasibility so objectionable? Perhaps because it suggests a process that the adaptive reuse of this building is feasible. That’s how trivial the Select Board can get using semantics to illustrate a distinction without a difference. 

During the proceedings, certain members of the Select Board disputed the Commission’s testimony. Again, citing concerns about the building’s safety and air quality, at least a couple of Select Board members stated they were too fearful to go into that building. How can Select Board members refuse to do a site visit to examine the conditions of a building over which they have authority? And, without first-hand knowledge, essentially refute any report by the Commission that the conditions aren’t as unsafe as town officials have claimed.

Based on recent findings by volunteer consultants and informed by past reports, the Commission’s good faith efforts were rewarded with a pyrrhic victory. The Select Board voted unanimously to support a renewed effort by the town administrator to “put together a package” for a Request for Proposal on a study for Select Board review. 

What is intended by a study package? An approach with multiple steps, the first being an environmental and structural assessment before going any further with the rest of the study? That seems reasonable to me. But to delegate the “study package” to the town administrator is analogous to a fox to guarding the henhouse. That same town administrator has been lobbying for months and years to demolish that building, using sketchy data and citing anecdotal opinions by a relatively small number of the public to support demolition. Make no mistake about it. His agenda is to focus on the design and development of a multi-million-dollar recreation center proposed in the southern part of town in the vicinity of the former police station but not on its footprint. So far, there has been a lot of talk about this recreation center but nothing concrete presented. I guess he’s keeping his options open.

Does anyone really believe that this study will be managed objectively? There have been enough signals by the town administrator and certain Select Board members that regardless of the results of any study, the demolition of the building is a fait accompli.  Without having begun, the town administrator alleged that the expense for a study will be a “non-starter,” my words. 

Residents need assurances that this process will be handled objectively and with integrity, no matter where they fall on this issue. The town administrator should recuse himself from this process and replaced with a consultant/subject matter expert who is not intimately involved with town administration.  Otherwise, this game is rigged.

Diane Gilbert

Dartmouth, MA