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Town signs deal to buy Reformer building

Following approvals from Representative Town Meeting, Selectboard moves ahead with purchase of 62 Black Mountain Rd. for police department

BRATTLEBORO—The Selectboard has approved purchasing the land and building at 62 Black Mountain Rd. with a 3–0 vote.

True to form for the controversial Police-Fire Facilities Project, even this final vote made the board and town staff — specifically Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald — sweat.

With only three of the five board members present at its March 30 organizational meeting, the motion to purchase needed to be unanimous.

Nervous eyes turned to Board Member Kate O’Connor, who had consistently voted against moving the police department to Black Mountain Road.

O’Connor voted in favor.

And after decades of plans and false starts, the town is embarking on rehabilitating its two fire stations and one police station.

And, in the case of the police department, that also means relocating the force from the Brattleboro Municipal Center.

“We are fully authorized to proceed with the project,” said Town Manager Peter Elwell, who reported that the proposed closing date for the current home of the Brattleboro Reformer is Aug. 10.

The path to approval

On March 12, Representative Town Meeting voted 111– 27 to reallocate $4.5 million to move the police department to the north end of town.

The body provided a second authorization March 19, when it overwhelmingly approved the fiscal year 2017 budget, which included funding for the Police-Fire Facilities Project.

Per an option agreement between the town and Brattleboro Publishing Company, Inc. signed last autumn, the town will purchase the building and land for $720,000. The March 30 vote included a $35,000 deposit.

Responding to a series of questions from returning Board Member David Gartenstein, Elwell explained that it would behoove the board to approve the option before April 1.

Otherwise, the option agreement would trigger another three-month extension to hold the property, at a cost to the town of an additional $10,000. Only half of that amount would go toward the final purchase price, said Elwell.

The board had worked the additional cost of a few extensions into the option agreement last year to provide time for the two Representative Town Meeting votes and any potential special town-wide referendum votes

Building purchased ‘as is’

The town has until Aug. 1 to gather the remaining financing of $7.1 million. Approximately $4 million remains of the funds that the town already borrowed in 2013 for the project. Elwell said that amount is enough to start work.

The town manager said the next project stages include inspection and designs. The town will have from now until July to inspect the building.

The funds budgeted for the new police station include purchasing the property, renovations, and upgrades to the building’s major systems like heating, said Elwell.

Elwell noted that the building is being sold “as is,” meaning the current owner is not obligated to make any major improvements before the sale.

The Reformer’s building was constructed in 1981, when the newspaper left its longtime home in the American Building on Main Street and moved to Black Mountain Road. An addition was built in the late 1990s.

Still, the town can axe the deal and receive a refund if inspectors find significant defects.

“We believe we’re well protected,” Elwell said.

Board member defers to vote

When asked why she changed her vote, O’Connor answered, “Representative Town Meeting has spoken.”

O’Connor said that because Town Meeting members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the move, she would not stand in the way of those votes.

Laughter and good-hearted teasing broke out after the board meeting adjourned. Until O’Connor voted, said those in attendance, they were nervous that — once again — the Police-Fire Facilities Project might hit a wall.

But at the end of the day, a sense of community won out and what had been frustrations turned into a group celebration.

An audience member wondered if Fitzgerald’s head might explode.

O’Connor said, “I was always going to vote yes, but [leaving people wondering] was too delicious.”

“I love Kate [O’Connor],” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to have bumper stickers — ‘P.D. loves Kate.’”

“Now you can take the dartboard down,” O’Connor said, laughing.

For police, cautious euphoria

The project has stalled so often that the officers felt too guarded to feel excited, Fitzgerald said.

“This is awesome,” he continued. “This is a good development, I think, for everybody.”

But, Fitzgerald, his tone turning serious, said that the department will remember that not everyone in town supported the relocation.

People have concerns, and the department must strive to address those concerns, he said, underscoring that the BPD wants to ensure that the community remains confident in the department’s ability to serve.

The chief acknowledged that moving the station to Black Mountain Road would result in a “culture change” for the community and police.

“Some of the hardest work is ahead,” Fitzgerald said. “We must work to maintain that trust and confidence.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #351 (Wednesday, April 6, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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