OAKLAND — It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the Oakland Police Department moved out of the Town Office basement and into a century-year-old farmhouse next door.

The space was never ideal, and town officials say it has long outlived its usefulness. The quarters are cramped, the building doesn’t comply with disability-access requirements, it has leaks and mold, and it lacks appropriate fire safety equipment, officials say; plus the setup poses safety risks for officers, perpetrators, victims and citizens.

“This was never built for the day-to-day activities of a police department,” Police Chief Michael Tracy said Thursday afternoon during a tour of the station.

The Oakland department has 10 full-time officers. Four, including the chief and the captain, are on duty on a typical day.

A facilities committee appointed by the Town Council recently concluded an evaluation of the building and recommended the town tear down the old house and build a police headquarters.

As a replacement, the committee is proposing a 3,900-square-foot, one-story station to be built in the same place as the current building, next to the Town Office and the Fire Department on Fairfield Street.

This is the third time in the past six years the town has tried to deal with its aging municipal buildings. In 2009, voters rejected plans to build a $4.5 million municipal complex. Earlier this year, the Town Council planned to move the town offices into St. Theresa church on Church Street but scrapped the idea after the renovation cost became too expensive.

The price of the new building is estimated to be less than $1 million, but the committee is keeping a close eye on cost in recognition of residents’ concern about spending and taxes. Town officials are aiming to put a proposal before voters in November.

“We’re extremely sensitive to that,” facilities committee chairman Mike Wiley said of the project’s cost, “but we have a responsibility to make sure the buildings are safe.”

There appears to be some public support to improve the police station. In an informal survey conducted by the committee at the Regional School Unit 18 budget vote last week, 232 of the 353 respondents — nearly 66 percent — said they were familiar with the appearance, safety and effectiveness of the police station and thought it needed improvement.

The building committee is continuing outreach to voters by hosting tours of the department twice a week through July, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

A tour of the current police building held Thursday demonstrated the building’s limitations. The main entrance, the only public space in the entire building, is a 5-foot-wide-by-10-foot-long hallway in front of a window to the dispatch office. The office doubles as a storage closet and is stacked with boxes of recent case files and reams of paper.

Other rooms are similarly deficient, Tracy said. The interrogation room is also the department’s kitchen and has one of the two entrances to the department’s sole, single-toilet bathroom.

The booking room, where people typically are taken after being arrested, is in the middle of the department. A small bench and handcuff on the wall serves as the department’s detention space. Medical and case files are piled on wooden shelves in a damp, unfinished basement; and the captain’s office is a converted porch with a leaking ceiling.

Upstairs, a cramped meeting-and-training room, an unventilated evidence room that is little more than a closet and locker room compete for limited space.

Aside from being uncomfortable, the building is unsafe, Tracy said. If two people are brought in together, there is almost no way to separate them so each can’t see or hear the other person. That poses a particular problem in domestic violence cases, because the department doesn’t have a space where a victim can feel safe talking to an officer, Tracy said. The open booking room, in the center of the building, is insecure; and perpetrators could go almost everywhere in the building if they got out of custody. The set-up poses trouble to officers “on a regular basis,” Tracy added.

The building is also noncompliant with disability standards and lacks fire sprinklers, major safety problems and risks for a potential lawsuit.

“What it boils down to is we’re stuck in an old farmhouse that we tried to make into the best police department we could, and it just doesn’t work,” Tracy said.

“We’re not looking for a Taj Mahal,” Tracy added. “We’re looking for something that is functional and efficient and meets the needs of the town and department.”

The building committee spent the last five months studying the existing police station, even going so far as to look at contracting with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office as an alternative.

The building being proposed is simple and straightforward and the town intends to use products that are durable but inexpensive, Town Manager Gary Bowman said. The intent is to build a new department “as inexpensively as possible,” he added.

Even though replacing the police station is a priority, the Town Office and the Fire Department have similar problems with compliance and safety issues. Now, as the town is beginning to grow, it needs to get a handle on its facilities, Bowman said.

“The bottom line is that we have to repair these buildings,” he said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire


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