The former Hannaford on Willow Street in Augusta seen Sunday. City councilors want to consider the site for a future police station. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

AUGUSTA — Several Augusta residents and an officer speaking for the union that represents city police expressed concern Thursday night about locating a proposed new police station downtown.

Brad Chase, community resource officer for the Augusta Police Department, said all 43 of the officers represented by the Augusta Police Officers’ Association have indicated they prefer a new police station be built next to the existing station, on Union Street.

Chase said the officers’ preference is based on the location’s being a better site for a police department, building there would be less expensive and there is room to expand.

He also said many officers are property owners in Augusta and are concerned if the new station costs grow too high, it would raise their taxes or could prompt residents to vote against building a new station.

“Unequivocally, 43 of 43 of us choose the Union Street location,” Chase told city councilors at a public hearing attended by about 45 people.

Of the residents who weighed in on where they think the police station should be built, many expressed concerns about the downtown site.

Mary Saunders said that with the developable space of the riverfront downtown limited by hills on three sides, the city might be better off allowing private development to take place at the Water Street site rather than building a police station there.

“We don’t have much room to build or expand” downtown, she said. “That’s why I wonder if, downtown, what hasn’t been developed is actually more valuable for commercial use than it would be for a city building.”

Other residents expressed concern about the downtown site being prone to flooding. The site is on the edge of the 100-year floodplain and within the 500-year floodplain. Because of that, it would be built on two levels, with the lower level serving as a parking garage and storage area.

City councilors have been locked in a long debate over which of two locations — a downtown site at the corner of Water and Laurel streets or a spot on Union Street, next to the existing station — should be the site of a new police station.

At the request of constituents, officials recently added another site to the discussion: The former Hannaford location on Willow Street, across Cony Street from Augusta City Center on the east side of the Kennebec River, which about two decades ago was home to the city’s police station.

Councilors on Thursday informally authorized City Manager William Bridgeo to spend up to $12,000 to have soil test borings and preliminary site analysis and design work done at the former Hannaford site. Residents also expressed interest in that site Thursday.

If city councilors pick a location for the new station by the end of March, Bridgeo said, there should be enough time to take the question of funding the proposal to residents in a June referendum.

Construction of the downtown proposal is estimated to cost about $21.5 million. That cost could be partially offset by selling the Union Street property that is now home to the police station.

The Augusta Housing Authority has offered to buy that site — continuing to use part of the building there as its offices while also developing new rental housing there — for its appraised value of about $650,000.

The Union Street site is estimated to cost $18.3 million, up by about $1 million from a previous estimate, with the biggest change being the addition of funds to stabilize the location, where recent testing indicated the soil quality is poor.

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, said either of the two properties that have been vetted — Water or Union streets — would be affordable to the city.

He said his projections indicate the biggest increase on property taxes for the Water Street site would be in 2029, when it would increase taxes by about $600,000 which, in today’s dollars, would be about 2%.

The less-expensive Union Street project, he said, would have its biggest impact in 2031, with an increase of about $330,000, which in today’s dollars would be about a 1% increase.

Pat Paradis, a former city councilor, spoke in favor of building a new police station on Water Street.

He said developing the dilapidated site would be too costly for a private developer to take on so the city should take the site and build a police station, which he said would help improve and encourage development in the rest of the neighborhood.

He said flooding should not be a major concern at the site. In the flood of 1987, he said, water barely reached that part of downtown, and the station would be built to be flood-proof.

Problems with the current station include a leaky roof, water that cannot be consumed due to lead contamination in the pipes, bathroom and locker rooms with rotted flooring and rusty stalls, asbestos and security concerns due to a lack of separation between public, semipublic and restricted areas.

Other problems include a dispatch center with no room to expand from its current three terminals, the lack of a centrally located evidence holding room that Police Chief Jared Mills said makes it more difficult to maintain a proper chain of custody that, if not maintained, could be called into question in court and a lack of secure parking.

Bridgeo said he believed there is consensus among city councilors that Augusta’s police officers are working in substandard conditions and need a new station.

He said there is a “terrific need” for a new police station, and the city has “the ability as a community to pay to satisfy that need without creating a big, bad, adverse impact on what we pay for property taxes in this community.”

“There may be some property tax impact down the road,’ Bridgeo said, “but I think that’s manageable.”

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