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Police station plans revised, original design still recommended

November 04, 2009
CENTER HARBOR — Plans for a proposed police station have been modified following comments at a public hearing, though town officials still say the initial design is the better one.

The police department is currently located in back of the fire station with only space for administrative functions. Processing and prisoner detention are done in Meredith and the Belknap County Jail, and Police Chief Mark Chase said current space is inadequate for basic community functions.

After over a year of planning and analysis by the Building Committee and construction and design experts, plans were drawn up for a proposed station located in the area of Morrill Park. The station is proposed to be a Cape Cod style structure with two sally ports, full booking and detention areas, other amenities with an estimated pre-bid cost of $1.3 million.

The plans went before a public hearing last week and came under fire by residents concerned about the cost and the utilization of Morrill Park.

The Building Committee and the Board of Selectmen held a joint meeting on Wednesday to discuss input from the hearing and proposed changes to the building.

The committee and architect Gary Goudreau came up with a modified building design to address feedback from the meeting.

The revised design reduces the original building by nearly 1,100 square feet. The design eliminates one sally port, an office, the prosecutor's office, and the community room. Prisoners will go out the same door used as the staff entrance, though an officer inside will operate the door.

The building will take up less visual green space in Morrill Park and, combined with the neighboring Brooks property, will only take up 16 percent of the green space with the rest available as a park area.

"This design will work, it's functional, it meets the needs," Chase said. "Shortsighted? Yes. We've cut the building down to the bare necessities."

"I do not want to spend a large sum of money to build a building that's all right for today," said Building Committee Chair Peter Louden said. "I want one that has some room."

Committee members and town officials said a more basic building would not have enough room for expansion and not likely last for the desired 20 plus year life span. Additionally the process and facilities needed for booking procedures is mandated by law, and that space cannot be changed.

"The change in design, while I understand it and I think it has merits, I'm not sure about it," said Selectman Randy Mattson.

Building Committee members said Saturday's meeting and the largely negative response was frustrating.

"It made all of us rethink that year and a half of work that we did," Louden said. "We went over all these issues, we discussed all these issues. Why should we change our focus?"

Officials said the input is being analyzed, though the original plan is agreed to still be the best one.

"I also do not want to appease a few people when I know it's not the right thing for 40 years down the road," Louden said.

Board and Committee members said the response at the recent hearing might not be the overall opinion in the town. Board and Committee members said out of nearly 60 people at the meeting only few spoke and most of those spoke in the negative. A previous hearing in February saw more support for the proposal, and officials said this might be an indicator that there might be a silent majority in favor.

"You're not going to make everyone happy," Louden said. "There are always going to be people who are upset at us."

Godreau said the only deed restriction on the Morrill property was a 57-foot setback.

"If it wasn't supposed to be built on, there'd be no setbacks," Godreau said. "The intent was not to never to build on it."

Building Committee member Trevor Chase said he has not really seen Morrill Park being used.

"We played football out there a few times as children," he said. "It's never been a park before to anybody, 35 years it's never been anything until now."

All said there was agreement from all speakers during Saturday's hearing, whether for or against the project, that the police department needs for more space.

"To throw out everything we've done, I have a hard time with that because we've done well," Louden said.

"You have the full support of the board to stay there and keep working in that location," said Board Chair Charley Hanson. "I do think there's merit in maybe looking (at) tweaking."

Board and committee members also discussed communicating further with residents to release more information in favor of the project.

The next Building Committee meeting is on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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