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Three possible paths forward on police-fire project

Daily newspaper headquarters eyed as possible location for Police Department

BRATTLEBORO—The Police Department might have a new home on Black Mountain Road.

Town Manager Peter Elwell released a memo ahead of the Selectboard’s Oct. 6 meeting outlining three alternatives to moving forward the renovations of the town’s police and two fire stations.

Elwell also recommended the board approve moving forward a process for the town to buy the Brattleboro Reformer building at 62 Black Mountain Rd., and commit to a number of public meetings to discuss the Police-Fire Project.

In the memo, Elwell writes that the town has an option to purchase the building.

An option means that the town can hold the right to purchase the building until the board and Representative Town Meeting can vote on a new plan and project budget.

The newspaper would remain at 62 Black Mountain Rd. as tenants, renting approximately 2,000 square feet from the town.

The Police-Fire Facilities Building Committee recommended moving the Police Station out of the Municipal Center last year.

“It is now absolutely essential that the town proceed with the [Police-Fire] project in some form,” Elwell wrote. “There are mold, asbestos, and structural issues [in current facilities] that must be addressed as a matter of basic safety and compliance with applicable regulations.”

Moving the Police Department to the north end of town is one of three project alternatives the Selectboard discussed at its meeting. The two other alternatives include keeping the department at its current downtown location in the Municipal Center.

Selectboard Chair David Gartenstein noted at a Sept. 29 meeting that relocating the department is also a policy discussion. He said that some residents want to keep the police downtown.

Need has become ‘critical’

In his memo, Elwell noted that the town has discussed renovating its three emergency services stations for at least 20 years. In the meantime, the buildings have “deteriorated.”

“The need for this project has now become critical,” Elwell wrote.

Over the past decades, as the town and its people planned, discussed, investigated, voted on, and went back to the drawing board, the respective emergency services have remained headquartered in buildings that have aged beyond their useful lives.

On the other hand, the town has also avoided sinking significant funds into upgrading the buildings while it waited for final plans.

Elwell called this move “prudent” but also noted the sad state of the three stations.

Project approved, then stalled

Representative Town Meeting approved $14.1 million to renovate the three stations in 2012.

The project stalled, however, after the town borrowed approximately $5 million and started the design phase of the project. The fiscal year 2015 budget was defeated in a town-wide referendum. The board and RTM decided against borrowing additional funds.

According to Elwell, if the town took up rehabbing the three stations under the 2013 plans approved by the RTM, the project would be more expensive at $15 million due to inflation.

The state has taken issue with the life safety systems in the Municipal Center. The town has negotiated to phase in work to meet state standards related to fire safety. Bringing the Municipal Center up to code is costing the town thousands.

If none of the “full-scale” plans for the three stations is approved, Elwell said the town will need to spend “millions of dollars” to make the stations safe and functional.

Yet, the money spent would serve more as a Band-aid and not meet the departments’ needs, he continued.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #326 (Wednesday, October 7, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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