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

AUGUSTA — A leader of the architectural firm recommended by city staff to design the new Augusta police station plans to put a modern spin on the city’s existing architecture — and likely for less than the $20.5 million voters agreed to borrow to build it.

Andrew Hyland, a principal partner in Portland-based Port City Architecture, told city councilors last week the $20.5 million Augusta has to build a new police station is ample. He said there might be enough to add features such as solar panels to increase the building’s long-term sustainability, while also lessening the cost of the project for taxpayers.

Hyland said other public safety building projects the firm has been part of typically have had a per-square-foot cost in the upper $300 range, while the estimate, provided by other industry experts for the city ahead of the June bond vote for the Augusta station, was almost $700 per square foot.

“Candidly, I think they’re high, and so it’s a great opportunity, I love to be on a project where we’re not actually pinching pennies, but we’ll see,” he told councilors at their meeting last week. “I talked to the construction manager we just did Yarmouth with. I gave him the square footage, the price, and he felt exactly the same way, that there was plenty of money in that budget, by a lot.”

That was a welcome projection to city councilors, some of whom said they thought the previous estimates to build a proposed new, roughly 24,500-square-foot police station at the corner of Willow and Cony streets were high.

“We saw towns putting up police stations for much less than we were getting quoted and couldn’t figure out the difference, in square footage, that we were receiving for a price,” said Councilor At-Large Marci Alexander. “It’s good for the taxpayers if we don’t spend all that money.”

The firm also designed the new Waterville Police Station, as well as public safety buildings in Sanford, Gorham, Berwick and Falmouth. City councilors met with Hyland, and staff recommend hiring that firm, though councilors still need to vote to do so. The vote is expected to happen at their meeting next week.

Two architectural firms submitted bids for the project, with staff recommending Port City, with a bid of $600,000, over Artifex Architects & Engineers partnered with Manns Woodard Studios Public Safety Architecture, based in Bangor and Maryland, with a bid of $1.04 million.

The city’s Development Director Matt Nazar said a committee including himself, Police Chief Jared Mills, and Eric Stark, an architecture professor at the University of Maine at Augusta, followed up with interview questions to ensure the city would get the same services from the substantially-lower bid. He said they are satisfied Port City can deliver the same product at its lower bid price. Nazar said Mills checked with police chiefs where Port City had designed their new police stations and “found nothing other than glowing reviews.”

Nazar said Artifex, which was the architect the city hired to do a needs assessment for the police station project, provided a very good product and services to the city and is surely capable of doing the project. But he said the roughly $400,000 in additional costs to go with that firm could not be justified as worthwhile by the committee.

Hyland said in the firm’s response to the city’s request for bids that he expected to wow the city with its low price, but sought to assure officials the fees it would charge Augusta are in line with what it has charged on other projects.

“I base it a lot just on the square footage of the project. And I ran it by some contractors too, to make sure I wasn’t crazy, and our engineering team, and we felt totally confident with that $600,000 number,” he said.

He said the firm will design the new station after taking a photographic survey of Augusta and its existing architecture, with the goal of fitting into the existing architecture. The design will not be based on a conceptual drawing of the station provided by Artifex previously.

“You’ve got a lot of history, a lot of brick buildings. We look at shapes; there’s a lot of shallow, hip roof brick and stone buildings, things like that, that we try to kind of do a modern take on what is the sort of quintessential Augusta civic kind of look,” Hyland said. “We look for the opportunity to really kind of tailor a design that is not only secure for (police), but that really feels like its made for Augusta.”

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins noted the police station will be on a corner of an intersection now populated by historic Old Fort Western, Augusta City Center and old city hall, which was previously a police station itself but is now senior housing. He asked that the new building blend in so “these buildings could somewhat talk to each other.”

Nazar said the timeline included in the bid package indicated the design would be expected to be ready by the middle of next summer, though Hyland thought they could do better than that, if the city wishes.

The city has still not closed on the Willow Street property where the new station is planned to be built. A former Hannaford supermarket building on the site would be demolished to make way for the new police station, but only when and if the city acquires the lot from its current owners. The owners leased the building to Hannaford and have been in negotiations with the city.

Acting City Manager Susan Robertson said she plans to update city councilors on those negotiations in an executive session at their meeting next week.

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