AUGUSTA — Following a year when pedestrian deaths were up statewide and the city had its third straight year of at least one person being killed while walking city streets, city councilors agreed to set pedestrian safety as one of the city’s highest-priority goals for the coming year.

Ward 3 Councilor Michael Michaud, left, Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind and At-Large Councilor Marci Alexander listen as Assistant City Manager/Director of Finance and Administration Ralph St. Pierre speaks Saturday during a city council goal-setting event at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Councilors, who met Saturday in a nearly daylong session to discuss their goals for 2020, also identified planning for the eventual replacement of Hussey Elementary School — potentially by consolidating city schools — building a new police station, and marketing the city to both residents and people from away as some of their top items to focus on.

While city officials said an extensive state Department of Transportation road safety audit is under way, some councilors said the city shouldn’t wait and should do what it can now to prevent additional pedestrian deaths or injuries. The DOT audit is looking at pedestrian safety on major state roads in Augusta, including Memorial Drive and Bangor Street.

“This is obviously such a need, there are way too many pedestrian deaths in our little city,” said Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Judkins. “I’d like to see every crosswalk in the city lighted. They definitely need to be more prominent than they are now.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said the state transportation department has between $3 million and $4 million in grant funding to upgrade traffic signals in Augusta and that project could include improving the visibility of pedestrian crossings at those intersections. But he said that work likely won’t take place until 2022.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said the city shouldn’t wait for that process to happen and should move ahead with installing lights at crosswalks to increase visibility and alert motorists when a pedestrian is using a crosswalk.

He said the city needs to do what it can to get the DOT to move ahead with previously stated plans to add sidewalks in the Civic Center Drive area, a high-traffic area where, now, there are no sidewalks.

Consultant Frank O’Hara, standing left, leads discussions Saturday during a city council goal-setting event at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

City and school officials also said a council goal should be to prepare for the replacement of Hussey Elementary School, in large part because last year a proposal submitted to the state seeking funding to replace the school moved from 17th up to ninth on the state school construction funding list. That means, Superintendent James Anastasio said, the project is likely to win state funding within about three years.

He noted if and when the state provides funding, it won’t strictly be to replace Hussey with a new school, as other options could include consolidating Augusta’s students from other schools, as well.

Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud, a former school board member, said he believes the system of neighborhoods in Augusta having their own school is antiquated and the city should look into consolidating elementary schools from the current four to two schools, one on each side of the Kennebec River.

Frank O’Hara, a consultant who moderated Saturday’s goal-setting session, said there was unanimous agreement among city councilors that moving ahead with a proposal to build a new police station should be a top goal for this year. However, so far there has not be unanimity among councilors on where a new station should be built. Some favor building next to the current station on Union Street and others, including Mayor David Rollins, prefer building a new station downtown at the corner of Water and Laurel streets in hopes a police presence there could help revitalize and reduce crime in that end of downtown.

Building a new police station at the Laurel Street site is estimated at $21.5 million while building at the Union Street site is estimated to cost $17.3 million.

Bridgeo said a new wrinkle in the discussion is that a company, which wishes to remain anonymous for now, has asked if the city would have any interest in a lease-purchase agreement in which the company would build a new police station downtown and lease the building to the city. Bridgeo said the company would be able to take advantage of federal tax breaks because the downtown site is a designated federal opportunity zone, which could lower the cost of building at that site.

City Manager William Bridgeo speaks Saturday during an Augusta City Council goal-setting event at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Bridgeo said he is confident a new police station, at a cost of around $20 million, could be financed using Tax Increment Financing and other sources, to make the project “affordable” for taxpayers, though it could require, for example, a 1% tax increase.

Brigeo said he and O’Hara would work to refine the list of goals and he would present it to councilors in February for their approval.

Other goals discussed by councilors Saturday included: Hiring a company or employee to oversee marketing of the city; adopting and implementing the recently reviewed Comprehensive Plan; encouraging and perhaps even requiring the reuse of vacant buildings, especially downtown; promoting volunteerism; preparing a parks and recreation plan; improving public transportation; and doing some succession planning to prepare for some veteran city administrators nearing retirement.


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