AUGUSTA — There’s a new entry in what is shaping up to be a hotly-debated contest to determine where the city should build a proposed new police station.

City staff have added a third option to their short list of sites under consideration for a new police station, an Arsenal Street parking lot once part of the old MaineGeneral hospital site at the corner of Arsenal and East Chestnut streets.

It joins a spot next to the existing station on Union Street and a parcel on the northern end of downtown at the corner of Water and Laurel streets as sites city staff are researching as potential new police station homes, with their findings to be presented to city councilors. The council will have the ultimate say on where the city will propose, to residents, to build a new police station.

The new site, adjacent to and just north of the Kennebec Arsenal property, was added to the list of places under consideration recently at the request of Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins, though other councilors also expressed interest and agreed it is worth considering with the other two options.

Judkins said he became aware of the site, now owned by Augusta East Redevelopment Corp., a development firm lead by Kevin Mattson which converted the former hospital into office space, through his work at the Maine State Housing Authority when that agency was looking for a place to relocate its operations. He said the site was one of the most viable sites the housing authority looked into, though officials there instead chose to refurbish and expand a building on Edison Drive as their next headquarters. And he said the owner expressed a willingness to sell the parcel.

He said a key advantage of the parcel is it is already cleared and level, saving the city potentially significant earthwork costs, and already has a parking lot in place.

“All the earthwork has been done, pavement is in place, lighting is in place, there are a pair of double entrances, my sense is this would cut down our cost, and build time, considerably,” Judkins told city councilors last week. “This might be a good opportunity. I feel this is due the same fact finding we’ve given the other two sites.”

Other councilors agreed and City Manager William Bridgeo said he’d instruct city staff to look into the details of the site and report back. He said city staff should be able to provide a solid presentation on all three of the proposed sites in about 30 days.

The parking lot at corner of Eastern and Arsenal streets in Augusta is seen Tuesday. The lot between Kennebec Arsenal and Ballard Center is a possible site for the new Augusta Police station. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Mayor David Rollins said he doesn’t object to the third site being considered but said the decision of which site to choose should involve more than just the cost of building the new station. He said the proposed downtown site — which officials anticipate could be the most costly to redevelop due in part to the need to buy and likely demolish the large building on the site now, a substantial but deteriorating concrete structure known as the Apgar building built in the 1920s — could also bring other benefits, such as revitalizing and invigorating a now run-down, neglected part of the downtown. He and others have said a new facility could improve that part of the city, and having police at the site could also serve to deter crime in that area.

“The opportunity to turn an area of town from blight and decay into bright new cityscape may not come by again,” Rollins said. “We need to keep in mind, just because something is easy and less expensive, it (may not be the way to go). The better apples may be further up the tree and require a little more work.”

At-Large Councilor Marci Alexander and Judkins said the end of Arsenal Street where the station could be built could also benefit from some new development, though Rollins said the area is less visible and not as poised for economic development compared to the downtown site.

Other councilors have advocated for building a new police station next to the existing station, which they said could also be cost-effective and is a site that has already shown it can be a good, functional spot for the department.

The divide among councilors on where the station should be built, combined with a recent run of resignations of city councilors, has already resulted in a delay in moving forward with the proposed new station.

Police Chief Jared Mills said he’s neutral on where the proposed next police station should be, though he said he’ll insist the new site have adequate safety and security. He suggested the downtown site, due to its tighter confines, would need the most work.

City officials initially estimated building a new station could cost about $8.55 million, though since then construction costs for numerous projects in the area have exceeded estimates as contractors have struggled to hire enough workers and have had an abundance of work.

Borrowing money to build the new station would have to be approved by voters in a referendum, but that likely won’t take place until the location of the proposed station is selected.

At-Large Councilor Mark O’Brien warned the city should not drag its feet, as construction costs get higher, in moving the project along.

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