Scarborough voters asked to borrow $19.5M for public safety building

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SCARBOROUGH — Officials are sending the message that voters will pay now or pay more later for a new public safety building that has been put off for more than a decade.

Residents will vote Nov. 7 on whether to approve borrowing up to $19.5 million to fund the project.

The existing 17,100-square-foot building at 246 U.S. Route 1 was built in 1964 to house the fire station. A two-story addition was added and the Police Department was assimilated in 1989.

The proposed 53,000-square-foot building would house police, fire, emergency medical services and emergency dispatch along the south side of the Scarborough Municipal Building, on U.S. Route 1 on property already owned by the town.

The estimated total cost of the new building is about $21.5 million. It includes construction costs of about $17 million for the building, site work, a new access road and a communications tower. Furnishings, equipment and security systems would be about $2.8 million, and a $1.7 million contingency is also built into the proposal.

The bond, with an estimated interest rate of 3.5 percent over 30 years, will cost taxpayers almost $1 million interest and bring the total debt service amount to just over $29.4 million.

Kevin Freeman, chairman of the Public Safety Building ad-hoc committee, said the tax impact would amount to $80 over the course of 30 years for someone who owns a $300,000 home.

The town also plans to use $625,000 in reserve funds that have been set aside to replace the public safety building and is planning to sell the building that now serves as the public safety headquarters to reduce the amount that would be borrowed. Officials have said estimates for the value of the building have come in at more than $1.4 million.

Some of the biggest problems with the existing building are access and egress issues that can pose a danger because emergency vehicles have difficulty leaving the facility near the Oak Hill intersection. The delay can lead to increases in response time.

Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said, “Even with controls of the lights at the intersection, the fire trucks and EMS can’t get out because the traffic can’t yield because of the gridlock.”

The new building would provide emergency vehicles an exit onto Sawyer Road, avoiding the Oak Hill traffic.

In November the town formed an 11-member ad hoc committee to research information about the project. The committee presented its recommendations to the Town Council July 19.

“We have been very sensitive to the cost of the project,” Freeman said. “I truly feel this reflects the needs of the departments, not the wants.”

Residents can get more information about the project, including the committee’s final report, at www.scarboroughmaine.org/psb.

Police Chief Robbie Moulton and Fire Chief Michael Thurlow also served on the ad hoc committee and have advocated for the project. They also cited existing space constraints, changes in service expectations, and physical problems with the existing building.

“We have tried to be as cost-effective as possible. We really pushed for durable low-maintenance materials and we didn’t put a lot of bells and whistles,” Freeman said.”They are going to use the current dispatch equipment.”

In 2008, a feasibility study was done which, he said, determined there was a need for a new building.

“We have outgrown the facility.  There isn’t enough space for us to adequately do our job. The project has already been delayed 10 years because of the recession and then it was stalled for the Wentworth School project,” Thurlow said.

Freeman said the mechanical systems in the building need updating, too.

“There are code issues because of so many people working in it. They are using spaces in the building that were not meant for offices,” he said.

Freeman said modern-day firefighting apparatus is much bigger than it was back when the building was built and “the fire trucks that we have today are right up to the eves.”

Moulton called the building outdated and said it doesn’t have space for a modern-day police department.

“When we moved in in 1989, the building was really built for that time,” he said. “… It was only sized for the needs of the day. As you know, the population has grown, so has the volume of the calls, and the needs of the department have changed.”

Some of the services that are expected to be housed in the new building include a safety and compliance officer; Operation Hope; units concerned with human trafficking and cybercrime; community and school resource officers; evidence processing; mental health services, hazardous materials response, and a live-in student intern for the Fire Department.

“We have four sergeants working out of one office with two desks,” Moulton said. We have people working in a bulk storage mechanical area with no ventilation.”

The building has physical problems, too. The town has tried to fix a leaky roof and windows, without success. Moulton said radio equipment is stored in a boiler room because there is no other place to put it; there was a leak in the boiler system, but luckily it didn’t damage the equipment.

“If we wait we will be paying more for it two years or five years down the road,” Freeman said. “It’s the best time to build, you can borrow very cheaply. Interest rates for bonds are at historic lows, and construction costs are not going down.

“It will cost Scarborough more to do it later,” he said.

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

A rendering of Scarborough’s proposed new public safety building, as viewed from U.S. Route 1.A site plan for Scarborough’s proposed public safety building.

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