Officials consider future of police station

May 17, 2016

The future of the Dartmouth Police Department headquarters remains up in the air as town officials consider both renovations and a relocation as Town Meeting and presidential election deadlines loom.

The project is currently being studied by Acting Police Chief Robert Szala and an advisory committee charged with crafting a ballot question to appear on the November election ballot, after voters at April's town election rejected a $8.6 million proposed renovation to the 249 Russells Mills Road police station.

“There’s a general, overall agreement for a need for a new station," Szala said.

The project, whatever its form, will be paid through a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion, said Select Board member Shawn McDonald. This would allow taxes to be increased above the limit imposed by Proposition 2½ until the town repays the money it borrows for the project. This amount will not be known until the town determines the scope of the project.

The measure must first be approved by Town Meeting voters. Then, the town has until an August deadline to submit the question that will appear on the November presidential election ballot.

Szala told the Select Board on Monday that the advisory committee, which also includes Town Administrator David Cressman and Finance Committee Chair David Tatelbaum among other town figures, is compiling a list of potential station locations, and would like to see a complete project design with full blueprints, a site survey, a hazardous materials test, and to know the cost for project management before formulating the ballot question.

The advisory committee hopes those things can be determined before Town Meeting in June, Szala said.

Nine different potential station locations, including the Hawthorn Plaza and sites off of Chase Road, Cross Road, and State Road are being considered.

The police department has operated out of a modular building on the Russells Mills Road property since early 2014, after mold and bacterium legionella in the hot water system made an officer sick. The police station receives an average of 25,000 calls every year, Szala said, and the temporary modular building simply isn't able to handle that amount of activity.

The advisory group determined at its first meeting, held May 12, that the public's lack of knowledge about the project led to its demise on the April ballot.

According to Szala, the advisory group’s number one priority is keeping the town informed about the next proposal every step of the way.

Szala said that most of the “lack of education” stemmed from people never needing police services.

“The general public doesn't know because, for the most part, they don't need us. We're just there just in case," he said.

Any project approved will likely take three to five years to complete, Szala said.