Borrowing for police station project approved by Town Meeting members

Oct 21, 2015

Following a lengthy question and answer session, the vast majority of Town Meeting members voted in support of the proposed $8.4 million police station rehabilitation and renovation project.

Architect Allen Lieb fielded questions for more than an hour after presenting a brief history of his work on the project. He presented the three different designs for the station, the various sites he assessed for a potential new building and gave an in-depth explanation of the option favored by town officials.

Lieb stressed that the favored option, which would gut and renovate the existing police station on 249 Russells Mills Road, was also the most cost effective.

Members of the audience asked questions regarding the building’s chance of flooding during a hurricane, if the police station should be more centrally located in town, whether solar panels might be added to the roof and whether the third option would be more cost effective over time.

In his third design, Lieb drafted a new building at the site of the Gidley School. The new building would cost about $14 million. There were a few Town Meeting members who questioned whether that would be a more attractive option because a new station might last longer than renovations to the older structure.

Lieb said the two would have similar lifespans, which would be an average of 40 years.

“At this time, we feel it’s the cheapest way to get the longest life out of the building, taking into consideration all the variables,” said David Tatelbaum, chair of the Finance Committee.

Finance Committee member Doug Roscoe addressed the differences between the two options and why the renovations were favored.

“The Committee felt that this was the least expensive option that would provide a fully functional police building. We can spend three times as much and get a much bigger building, but we think that this will provide a safe building, will last at least 30 years and it will work well. The current building doesn’t work well,” said Roscoe.

“We’re sensitive to bringing to the voters and to Town Meeting a request for money and a debt exclusion. We like to put forward the smallest amount possible that takes care of the job,” he added.

Some Town Meeting members raised concerns about remodeling that was done to the building in 2004 that was done with little oversight and left the building with a mold problem. The station was closed in 2014 when the bacterium legionella was found in the hot water system after an officer became ill with Legionnaires’ disease. Since then, the department has operated out of a modular building located on the property.

Former Select Board member Lara Stone emphasized that encountering similar problems as a result of the new project will be unlikely.

“A lot has changed. This project will have a whole different set of oversight involved in it,” said Stone.

Lieb said that part of the renovation process will include powerwashing and sealing the interior to ensure that mold issues do not return.

Now that the project has been approved in Town Meeting, the fate of the project rides on a debt exclusion vote, which will take place in April during general town elections.

“In terms of the impact, the Town is looking at issuing a 20-year bond to pay for this,” said Town Administrator David Cressman. “The treasurer has estimated for an average house, this $8.4 million bond would add a little under $40 for the first year.”

Cressman said that, with each year, there will be a declining amount taxpayers will owe due to the town’s borrowing practices.

“To give you a point of comparison, right now that same homeowner is paying $43 on [the Dartmouth High School], which was approved about 10 years ago. If we look back at 2012, that same homeowner was paying $71 of their taxes on this building,” said Cressman.

When it came to a vote, less than 20 people were opposed to approving borrowing for the police station project.

“I think Town Meeting did their due diligence tonight in asking all the necessary and appropriate questions,” said Acting Police Chief Robert Szala. “I think they made a conscious decision for the police department as well as the tax payers of the community.”

Szala said that, between now and April’s election, he encourages anyone with concerns or comments about the new building to reach out.