AUGUSTA — Locating a new police station in downtown Augusta could be cheaper than initially thought, but public safety officials say that site would be more in harm’s way during an emergency such as a flood, than if the proposed new station were built next to the existing department off Union Street.

City councilors who continue to debate where the city’s proposed new police station should be built could vote to choose either of those two sites as soon as mid-February.

City Manager William Bridgeo said Friday that he and other city officials believe the city should be able to use funds sheltered in tax increment financing, or TIF, districts to help fund the new station if it is built within the already established downtown TIF district. One of the proposed sites for the new station is located at the corner of Water and Laurel streets, within that TIF district. Bridgeo said using TIF funds would dramatically reduce the cost of putting the station at that site. It could likely be a major factor for councilors, especially since initially the Union Street site was thought to be the cheaper of the two sites by about $4 million.

Bridgeo noted the city will have to confirm with state Department of Economic and Community Development officials whether TIF funds, which in general are meant to help fund improvements within designated TIF districts, could be used to help fund the new police station. He said city officials hope to meet with state officials on that as soon as possible.

He is also exploring whether it could be cheaper for the city if a private company, such as the company which built the 100,000-square-foot state office building that opened last year, build the new station and then lease it to the city for use as a police station.

Mayor David Rollins said that new information since the initial estimates suggests the price difference between the two sites would be closer to $2.5 million rather than roughly $4 million. Consultants initially estimated it would cost $17.3 million to build on the Union Street site and $21.5 million to build downtown.

In a letter to councilors, fire Chief Roger Audette, who is also the city’s emergency management director, expressed concerns about the downtown site and urged officials to make sure those concerns are addressed.

Prime among them was that the downtown site could be prone to flooding. That flooding, if proper precautions are not taken, could take out electricity and fiber optic cables needed for police and dispatchers to communicate, something crucial during an emergency.

“Obviously, Water Street is in the floodplain,” Audette said, noting his concerns about flooding impacting utilities coming into the Water Street site.

Police Chief Jared Mills said the Union Street site, which is not in the floodplain, would be less in harm’s way than the downtown site.

However both chiefs said the challenges of the downtown site could be mitigated, noting the city has a second dispatch center located at Augusta City Center. It could be used as a backup should the dispatch center planned for the new station become inoperable.

Rollins has said having a new police station downtown could help spur economic development and remove the rundown buildings on the site now.

City councilors, at their most recent meeting, heard from downtown advocates with divergent views of whether a new police station in the north end of downtown would be good for economic development there.

Richard Parkhurst, a downtown developer and chairman of the board of directors of the Colonial Theater, also in the north end of downtown, spoke against locating the police department downtown. He said the proposed 2.2 acre site, known as the Apgar site after a former owner, will attract private development soon and would thus bring more economic development downtown than a police station, and private development would provide tax revenue to the city.

“It’s the last and largest spot we have for multi-use development downtown,” Parkhurst told city councilors at their Jan. 23 meeting. “If you put a police department in the middle of what you’re trying to develop economically, it’s not a driver. We’d like a mixed-use building, restaurants and retail spots, and people living there. That neighborhood is going to be incredible. We need that space for mixed use.”

Bruce Holmes, president of Century 21 Venture Ltd., a commercial broker and consultant on the Hathaway project in Waterville, said a new police station could help revitalize the blighted north end of downtown.

“Rather than taking an opportunity away from private development investment, I personally feel the city’s investment in a new PD facility at this site, and the presence of the PD downtown, should spur the private capital investment in all of downtown Augusta, especially the north end,” he said. “It should help stimulate more job growth and energize the district and its neighborhoods. It should help stabilize the community of longer-term residents by enhancing the feeling of overall public safety.”

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti pushed for a council vote to choose a location as soon as possible. Bridgeo said he would try to assemble as much information about the project and its finances for councilors, who could vote on picking a site as soon as their second business meeting in February.

Bridgeo said he hopes councilors will reach a decision by the end of March so a referendum on borrowing money could go to voters in June. He said if that happens, the project could be designed over the winter and ground could be broken for construction in 15 months. He said it will likely take about a year-and-a-half to build, meaning it’d be four years from now before police would be able to move into any new building.

Amanda Olson, executive director of Augusta Housing Authority, which has its offices in the current police station, said the housing authority has put an offer in to the city to purchase the Union Street site if the department moves to downtown. She said the authority would use the site to develop a housing project, and continue to use the building there as its offices. She said the offer is for the appraised value of the building, about $615,000.

Another new wrinkle in the site discussion that arose this week is the soil testing.

Bridgeo said an initial round of soil testing done at both sites indicated no problems with either. Since then, however, the city has had more extensive soil boring done at both sites. He said testing at the downtown Apgar site revealed no anticipated problems with the soil, but the spot under consideration for a new building next to the current police department has some subsurface soil concerns. He said the city does not yet have any estimates but there will be some additional costs to address those concerns at that site.

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