Yarmouth may consolidate police, fire headquarters

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council is considering a proposal for a public safety complex that could provide more space to several departments.

Port City Architects of Portland was selected by a steering committee comprised of residents, town staff and business owners to evaluate current and future special needs of the Fire/EMS and Police departments in April 2017.

They’ve proposed “Option Green,” which would expand and renovate the fire station at 178 North Road to accommodate both departments.

A preliminary cost estimate for the complex is around $8.2 million.

Police Chief Michael Morrill and Fire Chief Mike Robitaille agreed that as public safety directors, they should be in the same facility. 

The Police Department is now in an annex of Town Hall at 200 Main St.

“As the department took possession of the current facility 15 years ago, and spread out within the new building, it became apparent very quickly that we had already outgrown the facility,” Morrill said in a memo to Town Manager Nat Tupper.

Moving the Police Department to North Road would open up space in Town Hall for Community Services, which is now in a portable classroom behind Town Hall. 

Community Services Director Karyn MacNeill said as their services have expanded in the past few years, space in the “trailer” has become very tight. Four of the five rooms are used for offices; the fifth is used as storage space. 

“It’d be nice to have a more welcoming center,” MacNeill said Feb. 27. “If it works for (the Fire and Police departments), it will eventually work for us. We’re crossing our fingers.” 

Robitaille said moving Community Services into the police station would require very little renovation.

“This started out as a replacement of the fire station,” Morrill added. “It spawned into looking at how we could make it work for the three different agencies.”

Robitaille also said it may make more sense financially to completely rebuild the station, rather than renovate the existing structure and build up around it. 

At an Operations Committee meeting last month, the council asked the architects to provide a cost breakdown of the project before proceeding with discussions.

“This is a matter of keeping costs in line,” Robitaille said on Feb. 22. “It’s all very preliminary.” 

The North Road fire station was built in 1976, when the town operated three fire stations; it was designed for “smaller apparatus.” Since then, fire and emergency medical response calls have increased annually from approximately 400 in 1976 to 1,634 in 2017.

A 35-year-old modular building behind the station, previously used by the School Department, serves as office and living space for the department. 

According to Schiavi Mobile Homes, its life expectancy was only 20 years. Much like Community Services’ building, the space was meant to be temporary.

This, Robitaille said, is not only inadequate space for department administration, but for the five staff members who are on call overnight and sleep on site – four of whom are students from Southern Maine Community College enrolled in the college’s Public Safety Student Live-In Program.

As it stands, the fire station is about 7,800 square feet. The proposed expansion and renovation would create an approximately 30,800-square-foot, L-shaped facility. It would add a second floor to the fire station’s existing space that would serve as living quarters, complete with separate bathing, bunking, dining, storage, and laundry space.

The first floor of the fire station would be used for office space, reception, storage and meeting rooms. Two more apparatus bays would be added to the station’s three-engine garage.

The Police Department would be to the rear of the proposed addition, connected to the fire station by a shared lobby, restrooms, fitness room, and Emergency Operation Center/training space. 

The one-story police station would house office and storage space, conference rooms, restrooms, locker rooms, booking and interview rooms, and a laboratory.

At 72 square feet, Morrill said the department’s records room is “woefully inadequate,” since the department is required by law to keep documents for an extended period of time, depending on the case.

Officers also need secure space to hold and process evidence and contraband materials, and to park their cars. There isn’t a garage at the location, so the department stores vehicles that are part of investigations at the Falmouth Police Department.

Meetings, training, and gatherings within the Police Department are almost always required to go off-site as well, according to Morrill, since the conference room “barely” seats the entire department.

“Essentially, the new Police Department would be double the size of what it is now,” Morrill said. “When (the department) was built, we figured we were here for the duration. But now we’re starting to feel that pinch.”

The Town Council is waiting to hear back from the architects through Morrill and Robitaille, but Chairwoman Pat Thompson said there’s no timeline on the project beyond that.

She said if the School Department opts to go ahead with plans to update various school facilities, they may discuss wrapping both costs in one bond referendum. 

“Perhaps we could roll up the cost of the complex in the same bond as the school bond in November,” Thompson said Feb. 27. “Or we could split up (them) up. … Public safety is on the municipal side, so that is our concern right now.”

Thompson said housing both departments under one building seemed to be the “preferable option.” Now, she said, the council will look at how it can be done and at what cost. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Yarmouth Fire Chief Mike Robitaille, left, and Police Chief Michael Morrill with an architect’s rendering of what a public safety complex combining both departments might look like.