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Police station project blasted at information session

Center Harbor Board of Selectmen Chair Richard Drenkhahn describes plans for the proposed police station. The orange tape in the background displays the building’s proposed footprint. Erin Plummer. (click for larger version)
August 25, 2010
CENTER HARBOR — Opponents of a proposed police station unleashed a firestorm of protests at town officials during an informational meeting last week.

A proposed $1.3 million police station project failed at this year's town meeting. Out of 173 votes cast, 110 were in favor and 63 were opposed. The project has received extensive criticism from abutters and other residents due to the use of Morrill Park and the proposed location in a neighborhood.

Town officials and members of the Building Committee have decided to pursue the project for next year's warrant, holding an information campaign on the project. On Thursday, the town held an informational meeting at Morrill Park illustrating the proposed size of the project.

"We thought the best way to get people the information is to mark property lines and (show) where the building would go," said Selectman Charley Hanson.

The proposed location of the building was marked out with stakes and orange tape, showing that it would go from the corner of Chase Circle and Route 25B through the buildings on the Brooks property, which would be demolished, and end halfway through Morrill Park. A portion of the property would be designated for a parking area, though Hanson said the remainder of the property through to the library would remain a park.

Hanson said the town is also working with the Attorney General's office to mitigate the park land taken by the police station by designating a park in the area between Main Street and Route 25 that currently houses the gazebo.

Opponents of the project passionately spoke against it, with many conversations turning into heated exchanges with town officials and other residents.

"It seems to be what you're doing here is giving land donated by my family and making a police station," said Nat Dane.

Hanson said the town discussed the matter with the AG's office last year and are going through the court process for the park land, a process which he said was "muddied" by an interceding motion filed by some residents.

Resident Dennis Schofield said he is going to court against the proposal because the land was given by the Dane family as a park in memory of Dr, J.B. Morrill.

"They give us this property as a trust in Dr. Morrrill's name and we didn't take care of it," Schofield said. "Not one dime was paid out by the town. We say 'Nobody uses it.'"

Schofield said the park is regularly used by people in the area, contrary to what has been said. He said if the station is built with park land, the action will discourage anyone else from donating any land to the town because it might be built on.

"That's a slap in the face to the Danes, that's a big slap," Schofield said.

Schofield said he built the house in that area because he thought it was a nice area and liked the park. Schofield said if the station is built, the value of his property and other properties in the neighborhood will significantly drop.

"Nobody in their right mind is going to want to buy my house and look at a police station," Schofield said.

He also said Gilmanton paid around $570,000 for their police station and people cannot afford the nearly $1.3 million being proposed for this station.

"I bought my house there because I like the area and I like the rural aspect of it," said Bob Kadlik of Chase Circle.

Kadlik said he is not against the construction of a police station.

"I think there's a lot better place to do it," Kadlik said. "There's got to be a better place in this town. This was left as a park and it should stay a park.

Hanson said the deed for the property went to the Morrill Park Association and there is nothing on it prohibiting the construction of any buildings.

Several residents said there is nothing stopping the town from doing more building there in the future. Members of the board said that is not the case according to the AG's office.

Many residents protested taking any land away from Morrill Park for building use. Some residents said the town should instead spend money to improve the park.

Board Chair Richard Drenkhahn said the station was planned for the area to keep it closer to the municipal center of town with the library and town hall.

"This was a flat piece of land and the architect said that would be significantly less expensive," Drenkhahn said. "The Building Committee felt like this was a nice fit for the municipal center of the town."

"With all due respect to you selectmen, you're in a no-win situation," said Chuck Burns. "When somebody gives you something you take it an honor the gift. This was to be here in perpetuity."

Resident Mark Stearns expressed concern about what impact the cost of the building would have on the taxpayers, saying he already works 48 hours a week to make ends meet.

"Any tax increase would scare me to death," Stearns said. "I don't know where it ends."

Chase said the committee was charged with finding the best location and coming up with the best design that would fill the needs of the department and be the least costly for the taxpayers. The best location for the building was deemed to be close to the population center of the town and Chase said most calls come from the area of Main Street and Route 25.

Resident Derek Kline said he was concerned about there being a jail right next to a park. Police Chief Mark Chase said there will not be a jail in the building. The station will have a holding cell for prisoners before they are taken to the Belknap County jail in Laconia.

Hanson said the town has spent a lot of money to determine the best location and design of the building.

Some residents said the station should not be in the immediate center of town and suggested looking at other properties, such as one parcel of land on Route 25 near the town's tennis courts. Others suggested looking at the Post Office as an alternative. Town officials said those options would significantly add to the project's price and the town wanted to do the project for the least amount of money possible.

After inquiries by residents, Chase said adding a second floor to the current municipal building would be more costly than building a freestanding structure. The foundation and the building structure is set up for a one-story building; putting an extra story in would require extensive work to the building that would be too costly and displace town services during construction.

A few residents did speak in favor of the project.

"The arrests that they make is people who are arrested in Center Harbor," said Tina Hashem. "This is a better alternative. This (meeting) is the most activity on the park I've seen in 14 years."

Carolyn Schoenbauer said the board and the committee deserved more respect for their efforts than they were getting.

"I've lived here my entire life and I think we need a police station," Schoenbauer said.

David Johnson said the vote was extremely close and the "vast majority" agreed the town needed a police station.

"There would be people who would say, 'Not in my backyard,'" Johnson said, saying this would be the reaction no matter where the station was put. "If we use 'Not in my backyard' as the basis for the decision, then it will never get built. I believe we need a police station. Maybe the discussion needs to go 'We don't need a police department.' There's a lot of issues that deal directly with the police department. I believe you as selectmen are on the right track."

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