WATERVILLE — City councilors on Tuesday voted 4-3 to buy the Morning Sentinel building for $500,000 and turn it into a police station.

The price was $100,000 less than the $600,000 MaineToday Media Inc., which owns the Morning Sentinel, submitted to the city Monday as the sale price.

The council must take two more votes on the matter before it becomes final.

As part of Tuesday’s vote, the council nullified its vote of Feb. 7 to build a new $2.75 million police station at Head of Falls.

Councilor George Myers, Jr. D-Ward 2, made the motion Tuesday to buy the Sentinel building for $500,000, saying the city has had to trim workers from city departments in recent years because of the economy and there have been many foreclosures in the city. The city also is looking at a tax increase, he said.

“I think the responsible thing to do is to look at the project in terms of the actual economic climate we’re in and to see if we can save money,” Myers said.

He said he realizes the architects want to build a new building, but he urged against it.

“These aren’t caviar times — these are hamburg times,” Myers said.

Neil Heyside, chief executive officer of MaineToday Media, said he could not make a decision Tuesday on whether Myers’ proposal that the city buy the Sentinel building for $500,000 would be acceptable.

Heyside said the Morning Sentinel building is at least one-third too large for the newspaper’s needs.

MaineToday Media’s commitment to the Morning Sentinel is absolute and the staff would re-locate in Waterville if the building is sold, he said.

The company is recapitalizing and plans to make a significant investment in technology that will allow it to retain its workforce, Heyside said. He said some people, particularly sales people, would work from home in the future.

Myers asked if reporters would work from home.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Heyside said. “They’ll be in a space.”

Mayor Karen Heck said the Waterville Main Street program would help MaineToday Media Inc., find a site in the city suitable for the newspaper.

“We’d love to keep you downtown,” she said.

George Coleman, a member of the Police Station Study Committee, which explored sites for a police station and recommended building at Head of Falls, asked the council to weigh the costs of building new against retrofitting the Sentinel.

“The costs of renovating a building are very difficult to control,” he said. “It’s much easier to control the cost of new construction.”

He said he did not think the amount of savings to be realized in buying the 15-year-old newspaper building would be worthwhile.

“Buy the Sentinel (building) if you will, but please don’t put the Police Department there,” Coleman said.

Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, said the city already has a lot of empty buildings and asked aloud if it is in the city’s best interest to build new.

“I just think that that’s something that’s important to consider in terms of this project,” he said.

But Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said the Sentinel building would be an albatross to the city. It was built as an office building, she said.

“I believe that we need a new police station,” she said. “I think the Morning Sentinel building can be used as an office building. It’s a beautiful building.”

Myers, Council Chairman Fred Stubbert Jr., D-Ward 1, and councilors Erik Thomas and Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, voted to buy the Sentinel building; councilors Rancourt-Thomas and Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, and John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, opposed it.

Councilors are expected to take a second and possibly a third vote on the issue in two weeks.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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