A concept rendering for the proposed Willow Street site for a new Augusta Police Department station. Image courtesy of Artifex Architects & Engineers/Manns Woodward Studios

AUGUSTA — Building a new police station at the site of a former Hannaford supermarket on Willow Street is expected to cost about $20.5 million, a cost officials said is affordable and that should not require an increase in property taxes.

City Manager William Bridgeo had said previously a new police station would likely cost around $20 million, but he also expressed concern since then that construction costs have escalated since the long-discussed project was first proposed.

Last week the architects working on the project for the city provided updated estimates for the site councilors have indicated is their preferred site for the proposed new station, on Willow Street roughly across Cony Street from Augusta City Center and across Willow Street from the Inn at City Hall which, years ago, once served as the city’s police station itself.

The updated estimate to build a new station at the Willow Street site is $20.48 million.

“The project staff team and I were both excited and relieved that — notwithstanding everything we have been hearing about construction cost escalation — the new estimated cost for a 2022 spring start of construction is in the range of $20 million,” Bridgeo wrote to councilors. “Assuming that the current Union Street site would sell for $650,000 or so, that would bring the final cost of the project in under $20 million.”

City officials are recommending financing that amount with a bond to be repaid over 30 years, and timing it to coincide with the expiration of a tax increment financing agreement for the Marketplace at Augusta that expires in 2023.

The expiration of that pact, Bridgeo said, would bring an infusion of about $1.8 million a year into the city’s general fund. He said that would more than cover the cost of the bond payments for the police station. Bridgeo said paying the debt on the police station will cost about $1.2 million a year initially.

At their informational meeting Thursday night, city councilors are scheduled to discuss the station and whether to send voters a referendum question on borrowing funds as soon as June.

An Augusta police vehicle parks outside the former grocery store on Willow Street on Feb. 17, the proposed site of a new Augusta Police Station. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

Augusta Housing Authority Executive Director Amanda Olson has told city officials the authority is interested in buying the current Union Street location of the police station for use as its offices and development of new housing to help address the city’s lack of affordable housing.

The city and housing authority officials have previously discussed a price of $650,000 for the site, which Olson said is about its assessed value. She said any offer would be subject to approval by the housing authority board of commissioners and City Council.

If the project moves forward, the city would demolish the former supermarket building at the Willow Street site and likely build a two-story police station.

Problems with the existing police station include a leaky roof; it does not meet current critical facility building code standards; water that cannot be consumed due to lead contamination in the pipes; bathrooms and locker rooms with rotted flooring and rusty stalls; inadequate heat; security problems due to a lack of separation between public, semipublic and restricted areas; a dispatch center with no room to expand; no centrally located evidence holding room; and a need for secure parking.

Councilors have debated building a new police station since at least 2018, although progress toward that goal was stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget for the project anticipates acquiring the building would cost about $1.8 million. The Willow Street property has been listed for sale at a price of $2.2 million.

Councilors meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in a Zoom meeting viewable through links on the city’s website. Councilors are also scheduled to:

• Hear a presentation about Operation Hope from Waterville Police officials, as part of the city’s Substance Use Task Force efforts to better help residents with substance use disorder.

• Discuss a request from a resident to pass a resolution in favor of carbon emissions reduction.

• Discuss several zoning changes recommended by the Planning Board.

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