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

AUGUSTA — Residents will decide Tuesday whether to borrow $20.5 million to build a new Augusta police station.

The proposed new station, which would be built on Willow Street at the site of a former Hannaford supermarket, just across the Kennebec River from downtown Water Street, would replace the city’s current station, a former Naval reserve building built in the 1940s the department moved into just over two decades ago.

Officers say the current station is outdated, rundown and embarrassing to show to visitors of the station, though Detective-Sgt. Jason Cote, president of the union that represents Augusta’s 43 police officers, said having residents see the condition of the building themselves seems to be a pretty sure way to convince them that it’s time for the city to build a new police station.

“When members of the community see the inside of this building, and see the holes in the roof, and everything else, people realize, ‘Hey, you guys really need this,’ and they’re fully supportive,” Cote said of the current station on Union Street. “Unfortunately, it’s embarrassing for some of the officers, especially because we have a lot of pride in our profession. A new station would help morale, with more of a sense of pride, to work in a clean environment rather than having to worry, when you hear it raining, that I have to grab my trash can (to collect water) because the roof is leaking.”

Voting in all wards has been consolidated to the Augusta Civic Center, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Residents will also decide at the polls whether to approve the $32.64 million school budget, approved by the school board in March and by city councilors as part of the overall $69.4 million city and school budget in May.

Problems with the existing police station include its leaky roof; it does not meet current critical facility building code standards; water cannot be consumed due to lead contamination in the pipes; bathrooms and locker rooms have 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.

In 2019, Chief Jared Mills gave a video tour of the current building, noting its deficiencies.

Mayor David Rollins said the city had experts look at the existing station who reported back that it would not be worth renovating the current structure, in large part because it would be costly to bring it up to current standards for a public safety building.

The new station would be built on Willow Street, where a former supermarket building that still stands would be demolished. The site is just across Cony Street from Augusta City Center and across Willow Street from the Inn at City Hall, which was the police department’s home before it moved to the Union Street site.

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

The Willow Street property is currently owned by sisters through a corporation, JOFKAM CO., and in May councilors authorized Bridgeo and city attorney Steve Langsdorf to enter into negotiations to purchase the site, which has been listed at a sales price of $2.2 million.

Bridgeo has said an appraisal the city had done on the property valued it at about $1.9 million.

Langsdorf said Thursday the city has made an offer for the Willow Street property and is waiting for a response.

Four years remain on a lease Hannaford has with the owners for the building there. The supermarket chain had a store at that location before a new Hannaford was built up the hill, at the site of the former Cony High School, but does not use the building now.

City officials anticipate Hannaford officials are likely willing to pay the city to get out of the remaining time of that lease, further reducing the city’s costs to build a new station there.

Langsdorf said the city will purchase the property and will receive the present value, as negotiated, of the Hannaford lease. He said the total which the city will pay after netting out the Hannaford lease will be considerably less than the $1.8 million budgeted for land acquisition in the bond referendum.

The proposal going to voters Tuesday would authorize city officials to bond $20.5 million to build the station. Over the 25-year payback period, at an estimated interest rate of 1.7%, interest on that bond would be about $5.2 million.

Rollins and Bridgeo said the new station can be built without increasing property taxes.

That’s because the city’s bond payments would start at about the same time as a longstanding tax increment financing, or TIF, deal for the Marketplace at Augusta 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.

“People aren’t going to see their property taxes raised to support this,” Rollins said.

Augusta Housing Authority Executive Director Amanda Olson has expressed interest in the authority acquiring the former police station property and building, where the authority’s offices are located, to redevelop it as new rental housing and office space. She confirmed, last week, the housing authority remains interested.

The city and housing authority officials have previously discussed a price of about $650,000 for the site.

City officials have discussed the need for a new station for years but had extensive debate about where to build it, with some, including Rollins, initially favoring a downtown site at the corner of Laurel and Water streets which Rollins said would get an economic boost if a police station were built there. Others preferred the station be built next to the existing station on Union Street. Eventually councilors agreed to all support building on the Willow Street site.

Cote said the Willow Street site “is very adequate. We’re centralized downtown, near the city center, and have easy access to both the east and west sides of Augusta.”

He said department members have always received a tremendous amount of support and appreciation from residents and he is confident the community will approve the bond to build a new police station.

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