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Site and cost for new police station scrutinized by residents

October 28, 2009
CENTER HARBOR — The proposed location and cost for a new police station came under fire by town residents, though most agreed the police department was in need of more space.

A public hearing was held on Saturday for the proposed police station, which will go to voters at the 2010 town meeting. Selectmen and members of the Building Committee along with project consultants and Police Chief Mark Chase took input from residents on the proposed project to gauge public feeling.

The Center Harbor Police Department is located in the back of the Fire Station and utilizes space at town hall. They also will go to the Meredith Police Station for holding prisoners, doing fingerprinting, and other functions. Total net square footage available to the Police Department is around 3,700 to 3,800 square feet.

Police Chief Mark Chase said the department makes around 60 arrests a year, though conducts many interviews and other matters.

Chase said there is little room for department activities and some sensitive interviews have taken place at town hall amid many distractions.

Architect Gary Goudreau of Goudreau and Associates said the current plan for the new building was based on studies on the needs for a police department and space appropriate for a town the size of Center Harbor.

The proposed building is a Cape Cod-style structure with a primary floor and expanded space in the attic area. Goudreau said the building is not a two-story building as has been discussed by many people in town. The new building would separate the three main populations of the building: the general public, staff, and prisoners.

There will be a two-bay sally port that can be used for transporting prisoners or the extra bay can be used to store large pieces of evidence such as vehicles. Prisoners will be interviewed and processed, including fingerprinting, in the building and placed in a holding cell. Those who cannot make bail are taken to Belknap County whereas those who can make bail are released directly from the station. Chase said no prisoners will be kept in the station overnight. There will also be a separate entrance and exit for a bail official.

The public will have a separate entrance on Route 25B, where there will be four parking spaces. The building will have a lobby area, an interview room, and a separate corridor for access to the chief, sergeant, and prosecutor. There will be a training and emergency operations room, part of which will be available after-hours for public meetings. There will be four desks in the squad room, a communications room, and rooms for evidence recording and storage.

The second floor will have male and female officer lockers and an air handling room for indoor air processing.

The building and related space will take up around 35 percent of Morrill Park. The park will remain with benches, greenspace, and a monument. Walkways will be created leading from the library and town hall.

The new station is estimated to cost around $1.3 million pre-bid, an amount that is anticipated to decrease with the bidding process. A more solid number will be available in January by law for the town warrant and numbers can continue to be updated through to the 2010 town meeting.

According to town officials the tax impact would depend on the length of the bond. A $300,000 house could see a tax impact of $51 to $108 a year depending on the bond.

"We are not talking about expanding staff at all for this facility," Chase said.

Chase said the Building Committee toured several police stations including Meredith, Tamworth, New Durham, Canterbury, Sandwich, and others, some which were new, and some that were older.

Several people at the meeting spoke in favor of the need for more space for the police, though most opposed the use of Morrill Park and took issue with the proposed size and cost of the building.

The park was named after Dr. L.B. Morrill and put in trust in 1952. The town has taken care of the property since 1963 and acquired the quiet deed this year.

"That section of land was given for a reason," said resident Dennis Schofield. "That chunk of property was given to the town not to be moved and divided and renamed."

On the station itself, Schofield said, "I would be in favor of a downsized Police Station. Do I agree they need a little more space? Yes, they do. Do I agree they need a million dollar building? No, I don't."

Schofield said he was concerned that prisoners would also be released in the area that faces his house.

Resident Roger Kelley said L.B. Morrill had been his doctor.

"I hate to see his park manipulated," Kelley said. "I don't want to see a building on that section of Dr. Morrill's Park."

Resident Nat Dane said it is unlikely anyone is going to want to take a picnic in front of a police station.

"If this police station is built I feel this park will lose its use," Dane said.

Chase said other properties were examined but determined to not be ideal for the location of the station including land at the town shed and the Congregational Church. Suggestions were also made to make an agreement with Meredith to utilize their police station for holding prisoners and other non-administrative purposes. Town officials and members of the building committee said Meredith was not in favor of that idea for liability reasons and that Meredith's police needs would have to come first in the building. Building Committee member Bob Chance is a Meredith Police officer and said Center Harbor Police could be asked to leave the building if a situation arose.

Another suggestion was expanding the current building, though officials and Building Committee members said that option had been examined and was deemed to be too costly. Many town offices would have to be pushed to the front to accommodate police space and the generator did not have enough capacity for it.

Other residents said there are people around the area who have property that they might be willing to sell to use for the Police Station.

Hanson also said the town is aware of encroachment on park space and has proposed declaring the land between Main Street and Route 25 that holds the bandstand as a park. After a public hearing, review, and discussions with the Attorney General's Office of Charitable Trusts, Hanson said the town received a letter from the Attorney General's office agreeing with the proposal to make the bandstand property a park to mitigate park space lost for the Police Station.

Resident Gene Manville also had Morrill as his doctor, though he supports using the park for the station. Manville said the park received little attention in the time it has been a park.

After seeing the plans for the police station, "I thought that is a much better set-up than what we have," Manville said. "I think that's the place for it."

Input from Saturday's meeting will be reviewed by the Building Committee to determine possible solutions. The next Building Committee meeting is on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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