BRUNSWICK — The one thing the more than 50 people at Monday night’s public hearing agreed on is the town needs a better police station.
In the end, however, disagreement over a plan to spend up to $1.175 million on property for a new station convinced the Town Council to withdraw the proposal.
The special meeting was called in response to continuing concerns about the planned purchase at Pleasant and Stanwood streets, which the council approved on Sept. 20.
Residents Monday questioned spending that much money when the town already owns other properties that may be suitable either for a new police station or for relocation of town offices.
“Why can’t we use property we already own?” Anne Dodd asked.
Resident Greg Kelly described the current police station as “an embarrassment and shame,” and said it “seems like an afterthought.” He encouraged councilors to pursue the purchase at Pleasant and Stanwood streets.
Several residents expressed dissatisfaction with the town purchase of the former Times Record building. Kelly said the building is in “terminally bad condition” as well as “useless and invisible.” Some suggested the building be converted for use as a police station.
“Before we go spending money on another project, we ought to either dispose of, or sell, the Times Record building or fix it up so we can get tenants,” resident Bob Jorgensen said, adding sale of the building could provide funding for renovations or construction of a new police station.
He criticized the Pleasant-Stanwood location as “an odd place to put a cop shop.”
Louise Rosen said she would like to see a “bigger picture” plan as well as more community input regarding the police station.
“Maybe in the end the council is going to look like a genius,” she said.
Jennifer Johnson said she was told by Councilor David Watson now “is the best time” to purchase property for the proposed police station.
“I believe you made a hasty decision on buying,” she said. “When you make bad choices, it hurts the town of Brunswick.”
Kevin Bunker volunteered to serve as a citizen representative if the council chose to form a committee to review other options for the police station.
“(Pleasant and Stanwood) is a good spot for something else, but not a police station,” he said.
Carol Sargeant, who lives on Stanwood Street, said the location would not allow fast access for police officers, especially when Amtrak trains begin running on nearby tracks.
“I can’t imagine having any facility that needs to get in and out at the corner,” she said.
Resident John Donovan said there should be more transparency and supported establishing a committee to include citizens.
“The council did not do a good job explaining,” he said.
Marybeth Burbank said there has been a lot of confusion about the vote and what council intentions are for the property purchase at Pleasant and Stanwood. She said the council previously considered a fire station at the same location, as well as a Walgreen’s store. She urged councilors to abide by a proverb: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
Judy Gorby said the public has had enough time to comment on the property purchase and said she thinks police officers would be able to respond quickly without running into traffic problems.
Councilor Benjamin Tucker said there were important objections made by the public and he moved to repeal the purchase ordinance and create a committee to study the issue.
Councilor Gerard Favreau answered questions about using Hawthorne School as a town office, an option he said has been studied in depth.
Town Manager Gary Brown said the current use as a school does not lend itself to easy conversion to a police station. He said an existing police station at Brunswick Naval Air Station was considered by the council, but rejected as being in similar condition to the existing police station. Another base location suggested by the town was rejected by the Navy, he said.
Brown said moving town employees out of the current Federal Street location and having the Police department take it over also will not work because of regulations for a “sallyport” for securing people within the police station. He said renovations and demolition would be required to make the three floors usable as a police station.
Council Chairwoman Joanne King said the Times Record building is currently for sale and has housed paying tenants, including Southern Maine Community College, for the past several years. She said the building has been shown to potential buyers several times.
Councilors voted unanimously to reject the ordinance and expect to discuss citizen appointments to a study committee at their next meeting. Each councilor confirmed they were in favor of adding citizen representation to the committee.
“This does give us the opportunity to maybe come back with a more complete package,” Councilor Suzan Wilson said.
People interested in applying for the committee should submit an application to the town clerk no later than 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 15. All committee meetings are open to the public.
Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org