WILBRAHAM – The movement to obtain a new police station earned a major victory on May 11 after gaining Town Meeting approval.
Yes votes far exceeded the necessary 2/3 majority required to move the project on to the next phase – a question on the May 16 Annual Town Election ballot that calls for approval of a debt exclusion override for $4.2 million of the $8 million project.
The proposed new station would be located at 2780 Boston Road, next to the recently renovated fire station.
The town currently has a pending agreement with the property owner, Helen Moore.
The proposal was presented before Town Meeting by Police Station Feasibility Study Subcommittee Chair Roger Fontaine; Jeffery McElravy, principal at Tecton Architects, which was contracted to create the designs, and interim Town Administrator Thomas Sullivan.
Of the total, in addition to the debt exclusion, $2.1 million of the project would be paid from funds raised within Proposition 2 ½, $950,000 from the capital stabilization fund and $750,000 from free cash.
Sullivan said the estimate included bonding at 4.3 percent with approximately an additional $78 on the average homeowner’s first year tax bill, reducing to $49.73 in year 15. He noted, however, that estimate was high and he anticipated the rate to be lower with initial tax bills seeing a potential increase of $71 in the first year.
Fontaine outlined in a slideshow the many issues facing the department at the current facility, which he noted was built in 1904 and was never intended to be a police station – it was first a school, and then a town hall. Among the major concerns were lack of adequate storage for records and evidence, improper booking areas, substandard eating, training and locker facilities and serious foundation, water intrusion and mold issues.
“The building certainly speaks for itself,” Fontaine said. “There is no potential to upgrade the building at this point.”
Fontaine added the department currently employs an officer who has been instructed by his physician to not go in the station’s basement, where the locker rooms are located. The officer must go to the fire station to access his locker.
The subcommittee initially looked at 15 sites for the price tags ranging from $425,000 to $2.4 million before settling on the preferred site on Boston Road.
McElravy explained in designing a modern police station, the department’s compliance with several codes was “essential.”
Directly related to emergency response, the National Fire Protection Association’s code 1221 has specific requirements for dispatch services, while the Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies also has specific standards for accreditation that had to be met. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, International Building Code and Americans with Disabilities Act regulations also factored into the designs.
The original project cost was estimated at $9.2 million, however, the subcommittee directed Tecton to reevaluate the project and the outcome was an additional savings of $1.2 million. McElravy explained the reduction was the result primarily of a consolidation of space to ensure that while all areas fell within both the aforementioned standards and the department’s needs, it did not exceed it in any area. He added some interior and exterior finishing products were removed, accounting for a small percentage of the cost reduction.
Several residents spoke in favor of the new station, citing the lackluster conditions in which the officers must work.
One resident voiced concerns that the town was “pitting one department against another” and it “shouldn’t reward the first one to come forward with a proposal.” He suggested the town should create a large-scale capital plan. Selectmen Robert Boilard and Susan Bunnell both pointed out the board agreed at its most recent meeting to form a committee for such a purpose. Bunnell noted she was on a similar committee in the past, but the need for a new high school and sewer upgrades derailed those efforts.
Another resident questioned if Police Chief Roger Tucker could relate a specific situation during which the current conditions of the police station resulted in the officers’ inability to do their job, such as a case that was dismissed due to evidence contamination. Tucker said he could think of no such instance, however, he reiterated the lack of space in the evidence storage units, noting some is kept in a wood container outside.
The same resident also questioned the use of free cash and why the $2 million-plus in the account could not be used to balance the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) budget, which currently includes a $1 million shortfall.
School Committee Chair Marc Ducey warned against pitting the town’s capital needs against the schools, noting the town had been very generous to the district. He explained because the district is a regional one, Wilbraham could not make an extra allocation to the district without the town of Hampden making a corresponding additional financial provision. Hampden recently approved its budget at Town Meeting, including its HWRSD assessment.
Residents also approved the town budget of $38.4 million for fiscal year 2016 (FY16), an increase of $3.4 million over the FY15 budget of 35 million. Included in that budget is a $23.5 million HWRSD assessment.