Police chief, advisors approve station budget for election ballot

Feb 24, 2017

Voters in April's Town Election will be asked to approve a temporary tax increase to fund a $13,653,851 budget for the construction of a new police station.

Last week the panel charged with drawing up the police station proposal opted not to include additional money for solar panels, demolition of the old police station, or replacement of youth playing fields that will be lost as the result of new construction. On February 27, the Select Board voted to put the stripped-down budget on the ballot.

Committee members stressed that exclusion of the additional items does not necessarily mean that they will not be funded by the town — just that they will not be funded by the Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion needed to pay for the new building itself.

“Our responsibility to the project and the townspeople is to come up with a set of numbers to put up a new police station,” said committee member Kenneth Vincent. He said that including the additional costs would discourage voters from pushing the project forward, but noted that the committee would still like to see the ball fields replaced.

Officials said that replacing the two little league fields currently located at the Gidley School — which will be demolished for the new police station — could cost upwards of $500,000. Officials said new fields could built on the property behind the Russells Mills station — which the town currently leases to the Dartmouth Youth Activities Association (DYAA) — but that the back end of the property would have to be regraded, which contributes to the $500,000 cost. There are also traditional costs such as fencing, officials said.

The solar panels and demolition of the Russells Mills headquarters would add an estimated $980,000 to the project total, said Project Manager Richard Pomroy. The advisory committee said that while adding solar panels is not currently a feasible project, the building design will include an electric room and reinforced roof to accommodate panels in the future.

The committee had not originally intended to include those project costs into the construction budget, but researched the possibility due to requests from the Select Board.

Since the committee presented a preliminary budget and design for the proposed 21,800 square-foot station to the Select Board on February 6, more specific estimates for radios and communication equipment have helped lower costs by $33,673, said Pomroy. He and Architect Greg Carell explained that estimates are conservative, meaning that while they have been thoroughly researched, the numbers already err on the high end so that there are no surprises later.

In April, voters will be asked to approve a “debt exclusion” from the tax-limiting Proposition 2 ½ to pay the $13.6 million base cost of the station. This will allow officials to increase taxes above the state-mandated limit until the town has repaid money borrowed for station construction.

If it passes, Town Meeting voters will then be asked to permit officials to appropriate the money for the project in June.

While the committee did not wish to take on the costs of demolishing the current Russells Mills station, Szala said the entire station and tower could come down tomorrow if they needed it to because the department is no long using those facilities.

The station was closed in 2014 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.

The Select Board and Finance Committee will review the final budget at a joint meeting on March 6.

Town Administrator David Cressman said he will meet with the Gidley School demolition contractor on March 2 to continue that phase of the project. The demolition was halted after the town decided to contract Southern Middlesex Industries — the second lowest bidder at $417,777 — instead of the lowest bidder, Francesco Demolition, which bid $346,000.

Francesco Demolition had filed protest with the attorney general’s office, delaying the demolition, which Southern Middlesex Industries had intended to start this week and finish by March, said Cressman. However, Francesco Demolition withdrew its protest because the company had failed to disclose lawsuits that were open against them, said Cressman.