Select Board reviews plans for police station ahead of election

Mar 29, 2016

Those curious about the multi-million dollar police station renovation plans will have a final opportunity to get answers on Monday, April 4, one day before the town election.

Acting Police Chief Robert Szala will be in the station, located at 249 Russells Mills Road, until 8 p.m. that day offering tours and fielding questions.

On April 5, the question of whether or not to approve funds that would renovate the station will be put towards voters. While Town Meeting voters OK’d plans to rehabilitate the station, the project can only move ahead pending approval in the election.

The scope of the $8.4 million project includes gutting the station of contaminated material, overhauling the building’s floor plan and adding a garage with a training facility among other improvements.

In 2014, the station was closed when the bacterium legionella was found in the hot water system after an officer became ill. Since then, officers have operated out of a modular building located on the property.

On Monday night, Szala, the project’s architect and members of the Police Station Building Committee met with Selectmen to review the project for the public’s benefit.

Before settling on the $8.4 million set of plans, committee members debated two other options, one that cost more and one costing less.

Szala said the plan put forth to voters, if approved, would serve the department well.

“This station will adequately support the growth of the police department for the life span of the building,” Szala said.

Architect Allen Lieb said the building’s lifespan is expected to be 30 years.

Selectman Frank Gracie said many residents questioned if the renovation would be money well spent. He said a lack of oversight during the previous renovation prompted costly repairs that did not prevent water damage.

“They want to know: ‘Are we throwing good money after bad?’” Gracie asked. “People are asking these questions.”

Lieb explained that plans call for stripping the building of pipes, ducts and anything else that may be contaminated.

“Everything will be brand new,” Lieb said.

Also, he said the town will have someone on site during construction to provide oversight.

Regarding the cost to individual taxpayers, Town Administrator David Cressman said the project would add $36 annually to a home valued at $280,000, which is the town median. The cost would lessen over time and disappear when the debt is paid off in approximately 20 years.

Officials will ask voters to pay for the new station through a “debt exclusion” from the tax-limiting Proposition 2½, allowing taxes to increase above the state-mandated limit until the town has repaid money borrowed to pay for the station.

Cressman said that with tax exemptions, voters can be confused by the language on the ballot because, by state law, the ballot cannot list the project's cost.

The question, as it will appear on the ballot, is as follows: “Shall the Town of Dartmouth be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one-half, so-called, the amounts required to pay for the bond issued in order to rehabilitate and renovate the Dartmouth Police Station located at 249 Russells Mills Road, including all costs incidental and related thereto?”

Marking “yes” approves the construction project. Marking “no” rejects the proposal.

During the meeting, Planning Board member Joel Avila spoke in favor of the project. He noted that as a Town Meeting member he voted to approve the renovation.

“It’s not reasonable to expect the police department to continue working out of trailers. We certainly need a long term solution,” Avila said.