WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 6-1 Tuesday to buy the Morning Sentinel building for $550,000 and turn it into a police station.
But that purchase is contingent on completion of a comprehensive examination of the building and cost estimate for renovating it, councilors said.
The intention of the analysis is to show that renovating would cost less than building new at Head of Falls, they said.
The council must take one more vote on the purchase.
Councilors two weeks ago proposed buying the building at 31 Front St. for $500,000 after Sentinel owner MaineToday Media Inc. set a price of $600,000.
MaineToday’s chief executive officer, Neil Heyside, set a price of $550,000 for the council to consider Tuesday. But he said that the newspaper is going to move out of the building by early summer regardless of whether the city buys it.
The move is necessary because MaineToday is making a significant investment in technology that will benefit not only the Morning Sentinel, but also its sister papers, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Portland Press Herald.
That technology must be in place this summer, he said.
City Manager Michael Roy told councilors that if they wanted to go ahead with intent to buy the building, he recommended an examination of the building’s structure and systems, including electrical, heating and air conditioning. A good estimate of the cost to renovate also should be developed, he said.
“Kind of like a house inspection before buying a house, Mike?” Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, asked.
“I’d compare it to that,” Roy said.
Heyside said time is of the essence, as MaineToday is committed to the investment in technology and must quickly find an appropriate space for the newspaper staff to move.
Roy said requests for proposals for a construction manager would be sent out today and the city hopes to have someone on board in a couple of weeks to do the building review and cost estimate. He estimated an analysis would be complete in about eight weeks.
Roy and Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, said the city should move quickly on the building review and cost analysis.
“I think it’s important for both of us that this process not go on forever,” Thomas said.
Councilor George Myers, D-Ward 2, said he was glad the newspaper staff will remain in Waterville.
“We appreciate that,” he said.
Heyside attended Tuesday’s meeting with Michael Ivancic, vice president of operations for MaineToday, who will coordinate the newspaper’s move. Heyside said recently, and emphasised again after the meeting, that the newspaper is staying in Waterville.
Mayor Karen Heck suggested that newspaper officials contact Waterville Main Street executive director, Shannon Haines in its search for a new home, as Haines knows of all the available spaces in downtown.
“And we do hope you stay downtown,” Heck said.
Resident Leland Bard spoke against buying the Sentinel building. He said a gas station was on the site before the newspaper building was constructed and the soil should be checked.
“Plus, the Sentinel pays taxes here and we can bail ‘em out, but I don’t think we should,” he said.
Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, was the lone dissenter in the vote. She has supported the Police Station Study Committee’s recommendation of building a new police station at Head of Falls.
After the meeting, Heyside said MaineToday is committed to maintaining a presence in Waterville and to investing in infrastructure.
The company will not wait for the council to make its decision before moving out of the Front Street newspaper building, he said.
“Our plan is to be out of that building by early summer,” Heyside said. “We are moving whether they make the decision (or not).”
He emphasized that the council’s vote was not binding.
“There is nothing binding on either party to the transaction,” he said.
The investment in technology at MaineToday means reporters and editors will have later deadlines, can get more news online in a real-time situations, share content and produce more news in the print version of the papers.
“Editorially, it is a win-win for everyone in the company,” Heyside said.
Amy Calder — 861-9247