SKOWHEGAN — Skowhegan voters on Tuesday said “no” to a proposed new combined public safety building for the police and fire departments.

The vote was close in an Election Day with heavy turnout.

The final tally was 1,893 votes against and 1,322 in favor of a referendum question on authorizing the Board of Selectmen to borrow an amount not to exceed $8.5 million to build and equip a combined public safety building for the police and fire departments.

The building would have been constructed on town-owned land on East Madison Road.

“I’m disappointed, but it doesn’t change the fact that the fire station is 114 years old and needs to be replaced,” Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said in a message late Tuesday. “I look forward to hearing recommendations from the Board of Selectmen on how they would like to move forward.”

Police Chief David Bucknam said he, too, was disappointed in Tuesday’s outcome, but thanked residents for turning out to vote.

“It is unfortunate the public safety building was not passed, but we will go back to the committee and figure out other viable options,” Bucknam said. “I firmly support a single building which will house both the police and fire department and think we should continue to focus on how to make that a reality.

“The majority of complaints seemed to stem on location, so another look at feasible locations should be considered when the committee meets. I look forward to further meetings with the selectmen and the Public Safety Committee to see how we move forward.”

The Skowhegan Police Department has operated for decades in the basement of the Municipal Building on Water Street.

The town’s only fire station, on Island Avenue, was built in 1904 and is believed to be the oldest continuously operating firehouse in the state.

According to the town treasurer’s financial statement, Skowhegan has $13.1 million in bonds outstanding and unpaid. Borrowing another $8.5 million would bring the indebtedness to $21.6 million. With just over $3 million in interest, the total debt service to be paid on the public safety building bond would be about $11.7 million.

Residents’ reactions were mixed when Town Manager Christine Almand got a unanimous go-ahead from selectmen in April to sign a purchase and sale agreement and to spend $5,500 as a down payment for land off East Madison Road, where a new, combined public safety building would be built.

Voters approved the land purchase at Town Meeting in June, but not everyone favored the location.

There have been debates about the location and the cost — and the associated debt — of the building since the idea first was hatched five years ago.

Howard and Bucknam said a combined public safety building would add to the efficiency of both departments and a cost saving on heat, electricity and fuel. Some residents during hearings and meetings this year worried about the proposed location of the building, noting that the bridge on Madison Avenue near Gifford’s Ice Cream could become snarled with traffic in an emergency, thus blocking the only route to the rest of town. Some said that it’s on “the other side of town” away from the hospital, the high school and other schools, the Sappi paper mill and the New Balance factory.

Others objected to not having the Police Department right downtown for easy citizen access. Some residents said Skowhegan was long overdue in upgrading its emergency delivery system.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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