SKOWHEGAN— Voters are being asked to rank their top choice for the proposed public safety building on the Nov. 3 ballot this year.  

The ballot gives voters the following options to rank: To have a combined police and fire department project on East Madison Road at an estimated cost of $8.9 million; to have the police department on 181/185 Water St. and the fire department on 123 Madison Ave. at an estimated cost of $10.7 million; to have a combined police and fire department project on Memorial Field/Heselton Street, with the ballfield being relocated to West Front Street, all at an estimated cost of $10.7 million; or none of the above. 

The discussion of a new public safety building has been on the table for years. Earlier this month, town officials met with the public on both Zoom and in person at each facility. During these meetings, the public had the opportunity to explain why new facilities were needed, with space restrictions being at the top of the list of needs for each department.

Town Manager Christine Almand said that many have asked about the different options, some expressing concerns that the third option would take a ballfield away before the new structure is done. Almand said that the intent is to have another field built before then if this option is chosen.

Christine Almand

The issue that both departments discussed during their presentations was the need for more space at each facility. 

At the town’s only fire station on Island Avenue, build in 1904, Chief Shawn Howard says that the current space is small and cramped and no longer meets the need for the size of the department and the equipment used. 

We have some spacial needs here, some can be seen and some can’t. It’s small, it’s cramped and it’s not laid out for today’s fire service,” Howard said. “It’s served the town well, but it’s time to replace it.” 

Skowhegan Fire Department is believed to be one of the oldest continuously operating firehouses in the state. The building, originally made for horses and buggies, is now cramped when all vehicles are inside and cannot properly accommodate the staff. The fire chief says that the department responds to between 700 and 800 calls a year.  

One of the big issues, Howard said, is that when a heavy rain comes through, the area floods back from the sewers. About two months ago, the chief said that the department had to have the space professionally cleaned, costing about $3,000.

Additionally, the proposed buildings show a gym setup for the department; Howard said that this has caused some confusion among residents.

“It’s an area for the firefighters to work out, it’s important for the firefighters to stay physically fit,” Howard said. “If firefighters are coming to your home under emergency situations, you want them to be physically fit. It’s important that we provide them an opportunity to stay fit and we expect them to.”

The Skowhegan Police Department has operated for decades in the basement of the Municipal Building on Water Street. When police Chief David Bucknam showed residents around the department, he highlighted several areas around the precinct that do not meet the needs of the department. 

Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam, seen in February near his office at 225 Water St., hopes voters will agree that police and fire departments in the town need to be upgrade. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

Bucknam added that the department responds to about 26,000 calls a year. The department has 17 full-time officers. 

“There are 42 agencies that Somerset Communications dispatches for,” Bucknam said. “Out of those 42 agencies, we took up about 28% of the calls.” 

At the police department, Bucknam says that two-thirds of the space is hallway and that the new square footage proposed isn’t much different than what is provided now, though the way it is being utilized will be different.

The patrol area for officers is where officers eat lunch, write reports and tie up their boots. In a new building, this site would be rearranged, giving officers a separate space to eat.

Additionally, Bucknam added, the evidence room that is attached to the patrol room is notorious for flooding; this year alone, he said, the space has flooded four times.

If approved, the new building would offer a redesigned locker room with bathrooms set up inside to allow officers to change and shower. A washer and dryer setup would also be provided, which the department does not have currently.

“The officers are not able to give back to the community the way that they should,” Bucknam said. “With a new facility and state of the art equipment, we’d be able to provide much better services.” 

At the 2018 annual Town Meeting, the selectmen greenlit the purchase of a property off East Madison Road, where the idea was to build the site then. At this meeting, the town manager was allowed to sign a purchase and sale agreement and spend $5,500 as a down payment for land. When voters were asked on the ballot the following November to authorize an $8.5 million bond for the new building, they ultimately rejected it mainly because of the cost and location. 

In a survey that went out over the summer, residents overwhelmingly agreed that they understand that new police and fire facilities are needed and that there is a benefit to having both departments under one roof. 

Residents also agreed that it is important to keep both departments located downtown. 

Due to COVID-19, the town has opted to stream all of its public meetings via Facebook, including the online version of this meeting held earlier this month. The videos can be viewed even after the livestream ends. 

Other contested questions on the ballot include: 

  • To see if the town will vote to change the position of road commissioner from an elected position to an appointed position, effective the day following the June 2021 election day. 
  • To see if the town will vote to change the position of town clerk from an elected position to an appointed position, effective the day following the June 2021 election day. 
  • To see if the town will vote to change the position of town treasurer from an elected position to an appointed position, effective the day following the June 2021 election day. 

The Municipal Building offices will be closed Nov. 3 due to elections. 


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