2017-02-25 / Front Page

Residents may vote on new Wells public safety facility

Price tag of proposal lower than before
Associate Editor

WELLS — Space is cramped at the the Wells Police Department. Some of last year’s traffic reports are stored in the bathroom. Interviews are conducted in the lunch room. And when the building was constructed in the 1960s, it wasn’t designed with computers in mind.

For years, town officials have slowly but surely been getting their ducks in a row for the construction of a new public safety building to house both the police and fire departments — the latter department’s buildings also have numerous deficiencies. But the wait may soon be over. 

On Feb. 21, the Board of Selectman discussed a proposal to fund a combined public safety facility on U.S. Route 1, behind the existing buildings where the two departments are currently housed, as well as a fire substation on town-owned land at Route 109 and Meetinghouse Road.

Although both the Board of  Selectmen and Budget Committee must vote on recommendations, Town Manager Jon Carter is hopeful that residents will get the chance to decide whether to approve a bond to fund the facilities, to the tune of $14.25 million, at the June 13 town meeting.

“It’s been a long time,” he said.

From Tuesday’s discussion, Carter said by telephone on Thursday, “It feels as if the selectmen would let it go to town meeting, but we’re not there yet.” The town has more work to do before it goes to the voters, such as having an attorney deal with bonding agencies to put together a package of what would most likely be a 20-year bond.

Carter said he is happy with the current design and price tag. “We are very pleased with how it came out and where we are right now.”

Last year, the selectmen nearly pulled the trigger on a different design with a much higher price tag, just under $5 million more.

Ultimately, they decided it was too high a cost to ask taxpayers to pay, in part because it would have required raising the property tax rate to more than the amount allowed under LD1.  LD 1 is a state mandate, passed by the Legislature in 2004, that limits the amount a municipality can raise in property taxes each year.

Last year, a $4.8 million bond for an expansion at the Wells Public Library was also proposed. Carter said a bond for the library will not be put before voters in June.

The cost for the new proposal was lowered by making a number of changes to last year’s design. There is a shorter construction period, eliminating a basement that had initially been planned and it will be smaller — the new proposal is for a building of about 40,000 square feet.

Despite the changes, Carter believes the new design is a good one.

After last year’s decision to come up with a less expensive plan for the public safety facility, a building committee was formed. It was charged, said Carter — who was on the committee — to “bring something back that was functional and supported by the two departments, and we think we have.”

Not only that, he said, “We made it look better.”

“It really puts a solid landmark in the middle of our town,” Police Lt. Kevin Chabot said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It complements our town very well.”

Chabot said he’s pleased with the current design.

“It’s head-over-heels over what we have, which is greatly insufficient,” he said.

“Space is number one” in terms of deficiencies of the current police station said Chabot. “We’re working from a space smaller than the new convenience store across the street.”

“Previous year’s traffic accidents are in boxes in the bathroom,” he said. There are unisex locker rooms and a lack of interview space. “We have to conduct sex assault interviews in the lunch room.” He added, “When they built this in the 60s they never designed it to house computers” and accompanying infrastructure.

Chabot is hoping residents will support the project.

“We’re really excited with the chance to present something to the public,” he said. 

Carter said the town plans to create a brochure about the proposal that would be mailed to residents.

If they make their case, there is a good change residents will approve the a bond to build the facility. In the past, voters have given their approval to purchase land for the project.

“It’s a big price tag,” said Chabot, “but it’s well worth it.”

— Associated Editor Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324, or dmendros@journaltribune.com

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