Police station construction put on hold
Committee says land purchase still vital
February 10, 2010
TILTON — A bond article asking for $3.77 million to build a new police station will be on the warrant at Town Meeting for discussion purposes, but it is no longer the recommendation of the Life Safety Building Committee, the Budget Committee or the selectmen to move forward with construction at this time.
LSBC Chairman Ben LaBelle told selectmen Thursday night that the committee, in a 4-2 vote, decided to adjust its recommendation for several reasons, including the public's reaction to the project's price tag and the lack of time before Town Meeting to shave costs off the architect's proposal.
"We don't feel like we have good, clean costs," LaBelle said. "We (would be) putting something before (voters) that we haven't completely vetted out."
Pending votes in Northfield and the Tilton-Northfield Fire District that could dissolve the district were also worrisome, LaBelle said, as the outcome "may shift priorities."
"What if the fire district splits? Folks are telling us they can't afford both," LaBelle said.
Meanwhile, the warrant article to purchase the land on Route 132, between Walgreen's and J. Jill, for $540,000 is still being recommended by the LSBC, and the selectmen support that recommendation. Both groups agreed that the asking price is a bargain, and LaBelle said that once the land is secured, the committee can seek out grants.
The Budget Committee is not recommending the land purchase, which board Chair Katherine Dawson said was disappointing. Selectman Pat Consentino, the board's representative on the LSBC, agreed.
"We don't want to lose the opportunity for the land," she said, calling it a "prime spot for our life safety building."
LaBelle emphasized that the committee recognizes the "dire need" for a new police station and doesn't want anyone to misconstrue its decision as second-guessing.
"The building, we have complete faith in it," LaBelle said, "(and) it is absolutely the right location. What we don't have faith in is the cost."
Consentino agreed with that as well.
"I think that we've come up with a tremendous building, but there are many different ways that we can pursue cutting the costs now," Consentino said.
In order to continue working with the architect on this particular plan, there will be a warrant article at Town Meeting asking voters to approve another $20,000 to continue its work. The committee would be charged with refining the proposal and looking for grants. It would report back to the townspeople in 2011 with a more concrete figure.
"That way we've done our homework thoroughly," Consentino said.
LaBelle said the committee likely would not need the $20,000, but the selectmen agreed it was better to have it and not use it. Some of the money may be used to prepare for a special meeting, should the town decided to move forward before 2011. The committee has about $10,000 left out of the $50,000 it was allotted at last year's Town Meeting.
Dawson said her biggest concern with not moving forward with the current proposal is the liability the town faces because of the current police station's inadequate safety issues. She pointed out that this is the third police/life safety building committee the town has had since the quest for a new police station began.
"Six years later, and we still do not have a police station going forward," she said.
Dawson said that since the LSBC's public hearing, she had received over half a dozen phone calls from residents who were alarmed at the project's estimated price and wondered why the town was abandoning the Business Park Drive building that it had already purchased, at half the price of the proposed building.
She said that, just like last year, the committee hasn't had time to shave cost estimates to present a more appropriate figure to voters. The work of last year's committee was halted at Town Meeting, when residents voted to form the LSBC to look into other options. This vote stemmed from concerns that retrofitting the Business Park Drive building would cost more than anticipated, and that the location was not adequate.
LaBelle said that although the LSBC is disappointed, it wanted to make a responsible decision.
"Rushing into anything has never worked out for this town," he said.
The selectmen agreed to keep the police station article on the warrant in the hopes that it will allow for discussion at Town Meeting. Should that article be tabled, the matter may be discussed under the warrant article asking for the LSBC to continue its work, or the article to purchase the Route 132 land.