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Skepticism, support for revised station proposal

Architect Gary Godreau shows the floor plan for the proposed Center Harbor Police Station. Erin Plummer. (click for larger version)
January 12, 2011
CENTER HARBOR — The revised plans for a proposed police station on a different piece of property received mixed reactions from residents at a hearing Saturday.

In December the Board of Selectmen optioned to purchase the McCann property on Route 25 for a proposed police station. This will take the place of the original plan to build the station on the Morrill Park property in recognition of the protests surrounding that proposal.

On Saturday, members of the Board of Selectmen and the Building Committee along with architect Gary Goudreau and construction manager Keith McBey of Bonnett, Page, and Stone were present for a public hearing to provide information and take public comment on the revised station proposal. A large number of residents gathered and the meeting had to be moved from the Municipal Building to the fire station.

Godreau said the property is high and flat with room for future parking needs. The driveway and the less than 5-year-old leach field currently on the property will be utilized for the new building, hopefully saving money. The building that is already on the property will remain in place during the construction process for a field office and material storage.

The proposed station will be 3,700 square feet with space to accommodate the public, staff, and prisoners inside. Little has changed from the original plan for a lobby, booking area, sallyport, evidence storage, chief's office, squad room, and other features. Around 500 square feet of space has been moved from the second floor to the first floor, leaving 300 square feet of attic space for storage. Godreau said any expansion of the building will be done horizontally, not upward.

Residents grilled officials and principals on the proposals, including factors such as costs and space needs.

Some residents said that a dollar amount should be set for the project, and building should take place based on that amount. Town officials said the needs of the department have to be considered first with pricing based on that.

The station also has to account for legal and liability requirements for police procedures. State law requires that juveniles be separated from the rest of prisoner population as well as specific procedures for recording a chain of evidence that officials said could be compromised with improper storage or exposure to the elements. Another major consideration was the safety of officers, staff, and prisoners. Chase said the constitutional rights of prisoners must be protected and a new building would help with that.

"You cannot do away with certain things in that building area," said Committee member Robert Chance, who is also a police officer in Meredith. "Center Harbor brings a prisoner into a booking area, most of these people they have in custody are not happy. If that person gets hurt or anything happens to that person, the town is liable."

Officials said the station and its features would fill these needs. A sallyport would protect police and prisoners getting inside the building and could make for more efficient transport of evidence; it would also be used to house vehicles being examined for evidence.

Selectmen and committee members said the building was designed to accommodate the staff the department already has and does not plan to add any more staff with the new building.

"Every room in here is actually very tiny," said Police Chief Mark Chase, saying the building will already be packed as soon as the department moves in. "We designed it on how we do business today."

Chase said he often has to talk to a few different people in different locations at once in private, saying he wanted to preserve each person's privacy and dignity. Having multiple rooms would help with this process.

Chase said considerations needed to include the entire population of Center Harbor, not just the nearly 1,100 year round residents but also the population of visitors, seasonal residents, and traffic the town receives. Chase said the town also receives a greater number of police calls than many area towns with double the population.

Chase said the current police station hours will not change with the new building. There will be a call box outside that will go to local dispatch, which will call out the officer on duty. Chase also reemphasized that the station will not be housing prisoners, only holding them until thy can be turned over to the county jail.

Some residents also suggested that more space be made for the department in the existing building.

Godreau said putting a second story on the building was one option that was examined, but it would require stairs, an elevator and related controls and an underground storage tank for runoff as the soil in front would have to be built out, all factors that added more money to the project. Additionally the site would be built out, which would leave no room for future expansion.

"Moving the police out of this building would make sense (overall) because the police is the on department that has such a specialized purpose," said Selectman Charley Hanson, saying the move could free more space for other town purposes.

Fire Chief John Schlemmer said he and members of his department have seen the impacts of the lack of space for the police, especially the needs for space and privacy in talking to witnesses.

"We'd really like to get our space back," Schlemmer said.

Schlemmer said while the two departments have cooperated with the space, "It's the wrong place for the Police Department. I think that it's time we started coming up with a definite route to take. I certainly would support it if it's something reasonable."

A few others said the arrangement using Meredith's station for booking and prisoner transport has already been successful and should continue. Chance said Meredith's station serves Meredith first and foremost and Meredith can ask other agencies that use the building to leave if there is a major incident in Meredith.

"That has not happened, but I hope it doesn't happen until Center Harbor has its own place," Chance said.

Chase said not having a station nearby has created some issues, giving the example of a sensitive case where Chase said a witness did not want to go to Meredith and wanted to speak to him right there. Also while he is in Meredith, he is not available in Center Harbor to take care of any needs that arise.

Some residents expressed concern about the property going off the tax base with officials saying around $3,000 to $4,000 in taxes are paid annually for that property.

"I think it's not a positive that we're taking a property off the tax rolls," said resident Barry Borella.

Board Chair Richard Drenkhahn said a bond hearing will be held with the least expensive bond having a 4.25 percent interest rate with $71,000 a year being paid. Drenkhahn said the town recently paid off a $60,000 a year road bond, if this project were approved the bond would take its place. The payment would mean an extra $45 a year to a $300,000 property. Updated numbers will be forthcoming.

Godreau said the revised design to the new site did require an additional $27,000.

Questions also arose about the $800,000 building cost for a public safety building in the southern part of the state. Godreau and members of the committee said that building was found to have multiple problems including design flaws and equipment failures due to the more inexpensive construction.

Officials said there would be minimal impact to the neighborhood. Lighting would only be in certain areas and would be tailored to prevent light pollution. The only noise impact would be if a cruiser left the station using a siren.

A number of residents voiced trepidation or opposition to the station.

Borella said it would be best if the police station were combined with the fire station to keep the department in the geographic center of town.

"I just think that some of this could be reduced in size quite a bit," Borella said.

Resident Derek Kline said space should be found in the current building instead of building a new building.

"It seems that's an efficient way to do things, use the resources that are around," Kline said.

Many residents expressed vocal support for the station. Resident Janet Kimball said people seemed to be concerned about a $3,000 impact with the property taken off the tax base starting the process again could mean another $27,000. Also $45 a year for a tax impact is minimal and people probably spend more than that a year on other things. Kimball said the town has to support the police department and this process has been ongoing for two years.

"Let's not worry about the cost, let's get the damn thing done," Kimball said to applause.

"I'm very impressed with the work the committee has done," said Karin Karagozian. "The building looks quite simple. In many ways I am surprised that out Police Department has stayed here under the current conditions. I certainly hope that people choose to go ahead with this because I think every effort has been made to listen to our concerns."

Another hearing will be held on Thursday, Jan. 20, at 7 p.m.

Martin Lord Osman
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