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Center Harbor pursuing alternate property for police station

December 15, 2010
CENTER HARBOR — Town officials are withdrawing plans to put a proposed police station on the Morrill Park property, saying another property has become available.

Board Chair Richard Drenkhahn presented the following statement during the Dec. 1 Board of Selectmen meeting as recorded in the meeting minutes:

"The Board would like to announce that we have concluded negotiations for an option to purchase a property in Center Harbor which could be used for the proposed Police Station. The property is owned by Ann McCahan, located on Route 25 close to the municipal center of Town. Although we feel Morrill Park is an excellent location for all the reasons stated at numerous public meetings before this, we felt the opportunity to purchase this property that could utilize all the time and effort spent on developing the facility made sense. We would like to present this location to the Building Committee for discussion, as our ultimate goal, after all, is to bring forward a proposal to the tax payers of this Town that can pass at Town Meeting."

After the minutes were accepted, selectmen formally presented the proposal to the committee and opened it up for discussion.

Selectman Charley Hanson and architect Gary Godreau said the location would greatly work for the station as it is close to the center of town and is even more visible from the road. The property is also big enough to allow for the station's original design.

Town officials said they heard the opposition to using Morrill Park and wanted to pursue another option.

"We're starting to be a divided community; bring us back together," said Police Chief Mark Chase, saying the town recognizes the opposition to the station's planned position in Morrill Park. "This is a chance for people to put their money where their mouth is."

Hanson said the already-formed park committee could now look at improving Morrill Park.

"It can feel more like a park, we don't want to forget about that and walk away from it," Drenkhahn said.

Godreau said the new space could also allow for the removal of the training and community room for a small cost savings with the option of moving the locker room to the first floor. Godreau said the cost savings of that option could be weighed against the advantages of having the room.

Further discussions are planned with the original contractor Keith McBey of Bonnette, Page, and Stone depending on the current state of the contract.

Building committee member Stave Condojani said the opponents of the station have fallen into three categories: those against its location in the park, those against its location by Chase Circle, and those against it because of the cost, with any combination of all of them. Condojani said the "most emotional" issue for many people was the park and asked if the change in location alleviated people's concerns.

"I really want to see a police building built and I would hate to go forward again and get shot down for other reasons," Condojani said.

Resident Eugene Burgess said taxpayers might support the station more if more information was shared out in the open and they could have more say. Drenkhahn said a public hearing will be scheduled in January with ample notification given, including informing people of the meeting through a mailer.

Board and committee members said going through with this plan would mean the proposal to put it in the park would be off the table and the town would withdraw its petition in superior court to take the park

Resident Dennis Schofield said he still opposed the station proposal as presented.

"We are a little town, we seem like we're trying to be a big town because we're trying to have a standalone police station," Schofield said. "If we try to build a standalone police station and try to be a big town, the only big thing will be our tax bills. For us to spend $1.3 million for one department, the more I think about it I just can't do it."

Schofield said the town should expand the municipal building to make more room for the police and other departments.

Schofield said he also did not believe the town was going to leave Morrill Park alone until seeing something in writing.

Resident Chuck Burns said his main issue was the use of the park and did not have "a dog in the hunt" if it was taken from the table.

"There's no question we need a police station," Burns said. "Do we need to spend $1.3 million? The voters will tell you that."

Burns commended the selectmen for looking for alternatives.

Goudreau said the current property on which the municipal building sits is limited in space. If the building were expanded for those needs, the site would be built out and allow little room for future growth of the police or fire departments. Expansion beyond that would require a separate building.

Chase and Selectman Randy Mattson said the option of expanding has already been discussed and it was found that expanding the building would cost more than building a new building.

Chase also said that the proposed police station is close to the size of Meredith's former police station that now holds the offices of the public works department. Meredith's current station is about three times bigger than the proposed Center Harbor station.

The selectmen voted unanimously in favor of withdrawing their plans for Morrill Park and the board decided it will formally withdraw its court petitions and notify the Attorney General's office of the decision.

The purchase of the property on Route 25 and the police station itself will be two separate warrant articles for the 2011 town meeting.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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