WATERVILLE — A new $2.5 million police station will be built at Head of Falls this year if councilors approve the plan Tuesday night.

The Head of Falls site off Front Street near the Kennebec River is recommended by both City Manager Michael Roy and the Police Station Study Committee, which for more than a year has worked to find an appropriate site.

Roy said a variety of factors, including cost and proximity to City Hall and the city’s center, prompted the committee to recommend Head of Falls over the other possible sites — Colby Circle, the Morning Sentinel building and the former Social Security building on Front Street.

The city owns the Head of Falls property and would not have to move the police dispatch communications tower and antennas if the police station is built there, Roy said. Moving the tower to another location is estimated to cost between $100,000 and $150,000.

“I’m convinced that Head of Falls is the best site available to us,” Roy said Friday. “I think it has a number of very important characteristics. Number one, it’s close enough to City Hall where we can maintain face-to-face contacts.”

Port City Architecture, the firm hired by the city to work on the project, met with councilors, the study committee and others Wednesday night. Architects John Charette and Andy Hyland said the 1.64-acre waterfront site is suitable for a police station. Among their recommendations are that the city:

* buy .38-acre from the adjacent railroad for parking and other infrastructure.

* rezone the land from industrial to commercial to ease setback requirements and allow more of the parcel to be developed

* survey the site to confirm topography, boundary and location of sanitary treatment district line

* have a geotechnical report completed to determine soil condition

The architects also presented a drawing of what the new police station could look like and emphasized that changes may be made as needed.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, said he has heard more opposition than support for the Head of Falls site.

“The site that I like, personally, is the Colby Circle site, considering the similar uses next to it,” Thomas said. “It just seems like from a planning standpoint, it makes more sense than the Head of Falls site does.”

Some people questioned whether having a police station on the waterfront would detract from the park plaza near the Two-Cent Bridge and deter others from developing there.

But Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, a committee member, said having the police station at Head of Falls brings it into the community so it’s not hidden. It affords a greater sense of security, she said.

“I think it’s going to add to the area, not take away from it,” she said.

The current police station in the basement of City Hall is antiquated, cramped and inadequate for modern police needs, according to city officials.

Study committee member George Coleman said that as he and others on the panel explored all the proposed sites, they kept coming back to Head of Falls.

“The committee didn’t start out looking at Head of Falls — you could almost say we backed into it,” Coleman said.

Like Coleman, police Chief Joseph Massey, a non-voting committee member, said the group used a sound set of criteria when looking at the sites and as they did, they always returned to Head of Falls. Massey said the site, which allows police easy access to all corners of the city, just makes the most sense.

“It was also close to a lot of high volume calls we experience on a daily basis,” he said.

Councilor George Myers, Jr., D-Ward 2, wasn’t convinced the site is the best one.

“It’s frustrating that there seems to be only one choice,” he said.

Committee member Cathy Taylor replied, “That’s the reality.”

Thomas also raised the possibility of building a separate public restroom at Head of Falls as part of the project.

Roy said officials had discussed that possibility. The city has about $80,000 left over from a waterfront bond that could be used for that purpose, he said.

Resident Daniel Poulin said police should move into the fire station, which Paul LePage, now Maine governor, pushed for when he was mayor.

Roy said architects who reviewed the fire station said there were problems with turning part of that building into a police station.

Roy said Friday that construction of a police station at Head of Falls could be completed by the end of the year.

“That was the original schedule that the council approved in June — a Nov ember 2012 completion date,” he said.

Roy, Fire Chief David LaFountain and City Engineer Greg Brown served as non-voting committee members along with Massey. Roy praised committee members, who worked hard to help identify a site, he said. Besides Coleman, Taylor and Rancourt-Thomas, they are Chairman Allan Rancourt, Michelle Plumstead, Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, China Town Manager Dan L’Heureux and Samuel Shapiro. Former Mayor Dana Sennett also served on the committee before leaving office.

“They worked 1 1/2 years to identify a site and did the city a great service, meeting and helping to bring this to the forefront — to the public’s attention ,” Roy said. “I think they did a great job.”

The Council is scheduled to consider the issue at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at The Center downtown.

In other matters at Tuesday’s meeting, councilors will consider approving a tax increment financing program, or tax break, to support a gas pipeline being proposed by Kennebec Valley Gas Co.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

 


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