WATERVILLE — City officials on Tuesday morning broke ground on a new 12,133-square-foot police station at Colby Circle.
City Manager Michael Roy said the groundbreaking was the first step in what the city hopes will be a quick process.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am that we’re at this point today,” he said.
He, Police Chief Joseph Massey and Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, dipped spades into the wet dirt as heavy equipment roared nearby in the rain, clearing land for an access road to the site.
“Even this rain is not going to dampen my enthusiasm for what is happening today,” Massey said.
He said it is an exciting time for the Police Department.
“We’ve waited for this for a long, long time.”
The police station will be on land the city bought from Hight Partners for $100,000 at the southernmost tip of Colby Circle. It is next to the U.S. Social Security Administration and Waterville District Court buildings, both of which are owned by Hight Partners.
The proposed cost for the police station, including equipment and furniture, is $3.4 million. Councilors are scheduled to vote later this month on whether to approve the amount or reduce it by eliminating some proposed items.
Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, said at last week’s council meeting that he would not support $3.4 million for the project.
“In this economy, it just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” according to O’Donnell, who did not attend Tuesday’s groundbreaking, but spoke later in the day.
Previous council discussions focused on the construction costing about $2.5 million and soft costs, including equipment and furniture, increasing that cost to $3.4 million.
O’Donnell said that police need a new station. While he did not support Paul LePage all the time when he was mayor of Waterville, he was able to keep the tax rate down in the city, O’Donnell said.
“The problem is, since he’s been gone, the tax rate has gone up every year and this (police station cost) means it’s going to go up again this year,” he said. “There comes a time when we have got to stop spending and look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘Where can we go from here?'”
At the groundbreaking, Stubbert said it is a great relief to be breaking ground and starting the project.
“Hopefully by June of next year we’ll be in this building and it’ll be something we’ll really be proud of,” he said.
About two dozen people turned out for the groundbreaking, including representatives of Wright Ryan Construction Inc., the general contractor for the project, and Port City Architecture, the architect.
Police officers, members of the Police Station Study Committee, City Engineer Greg Brown, City Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, and Safety Council Chairman Peter Joseph were among those who attended.
The Police Department now is in the basement of City Hall, in a space that city officials say is crowded, outdated and antiquated.
George Coleman, a member of the Police Station Study Committee which worked to find a site, said it was a long process, getting to Tuesday’s groundbreaking.
The committee looked at several possible sites, including Head of Falls, which ultimately was the panel’s choice. But members of the public spoke out against that location for various reasons, including its proximity to railroad tracks.
“The committee didn’t consider this site (Colby Circle) more because it was felt the price tag was too much for the council to support,” Coleman said Tuesday. “I think Head of Falls was a good spot for visibility, but this will be fine.”
Police Station Study Committee member Cathy Taylor also was there. City Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, who sat in on police station discussions over 2 1/2 years, said it was nice to see some of the original committee members at the groundbreaking.
“All the work and time they put into this has come to fruition,” she said.
Deputy police Chief Charles Rumsey called it a very exciting day and one that was a result of a lot of hard work by the committee, Roy, councilors and others. The new facility, he said, will be modern and safe.
“It’s very exciting to see that first shovel go into the ground,” he said.
Tom Frederick, vice president of operations for Wright-Ryan, Tom Burrill, the company’s project manager, and Millard Nadeau, its construction supervisor, stood in hard hats at the site after the ceremony.
They said that between now and Thanksgiving, the road to the new building will be built and gravel laid. The Monday after Thanksgiving, digging will start for a foundation.
“We’ll work through the winter,” Frederick said.
The wood frame of the building will probably go up Jan. 1, he said.
Amy Calder — 861-9247