SKOWHEGAN — Surveys and a public hearing are in the works to decide what to do about a combined police and fire station, selectmen said Tuesday night during the first meeting on the issue since voters scrapped the original plan in a Nov. 6 referendum.

“We need some kind of direction as to where we go from here,” said Paul York, the board chairman and a member of the Public Safety Building Committee. “Was it a failure of cost, was it a failure of location, or a combination of both?”

The final tally in the vote on Election Day was 1,893 votes against and 1,322 in favor of a referendum question on authorizing the Board of Selectmen to borrow up to $8.5 million to build and equip a combined public safety building for the police and fire departments.

Surveys will be made up and sent out electronically, via social media pages and in hard copy forms to be on hand at area businesses, the library, the Chamber of Commerce and other locations leading up to a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Municipal Building.

“We need to give people a chance to voice their opinion,” Selectwoman Betty Austin said.

Town Manager Christine Almand said a Survey Monkey guide could be used via the town’s website and on the Facebook pages of the Fire Department and the Police Department.

“We could plaster the information everywhere to get to as many people as possible,” she said. “We need to get to work. We can’t put this off for very long.”

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. Fire Chief Shawn Howard said the current building needs repairs and that the longer the town waits to approve a site and the cost of a new combined building, the more it’s going to cost.

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, residents’ reactions were mixed.

The town later bought the land for $55,000.

Howard and police Chief David Bucknam said a combined public safety building would add to the efficiency of both departments and a cost saving on heat, electricity and fuel.

Members of a Public Safety Committee, formed to find a suitable location, have said the town previously didn’t own property suitable for such a structure. They researched several properties and found the piece owned by Clarice B. Dunlop to be the best option. The 12-member committee is made up of police and fire officials, the code enforcement officer, the road commissioner and a Somerset County commissioner from Skowhegan.

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 downtown for easy citizen access.

“There really was no fluff in this building,” York added.

The surveys will ask Skowhegan residents whether they voted against the measure, and if so, whether the reason was the cost, the location or something else. Also, nonresidents who own property or businesses in town also are encouraged to answer the survey’s other questions.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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