SKOWHEGAN — Construction of an $8.25 million public safety building in Skowhegan is set to move forward now that the Board of Selectmen has agreed to hire a Westbrook-based builder.

The decision Tuesday night to hire Benchmark Construction came weeks after initial bids on the project came in much higher than selectmen, members of the public safety building committee and town officials were expecting.

Benchmark Construction presented a maximum guaranteed price of $8.25 million to build the building. Some cosmetic changes and other cost-saving adjustments were made to the initial plan, presented in the October bid, but no square footage had been removed in the process.

Voters in Skowhegan passed an $8.9 million bond in 2020 to build a combined fire and police station on East Madison Road. In addition to the bond, town officials have a reserve account of $1.1 million that could be put toward the project.

The public safety building committee convened just before the regular Board of Selectmen meeting to discuss changes to the bid, which initially came in at between $11 million to $13 million.

Town officials were able to reduce the cost by making changes to the proposed building’s facade and layout. The changes included removing exterior masonry, removing a mezzanine at the police station, using regular ceilings in certain areas where high ceilings were planned, reworking room layouts and adjusting plans for the heating and air conditioning system.

Police Chief David Bucknam and Fire Chief Shawn Howard said all of the adjustments involved items not crucial to the building’s function.

Once the building is complete, Bucknam said, furnishing it will involve two grants to pay for lockers. He said the town is working to secure another grant to cover the cost of an industrial washer and dryer.

“Now we’ve got a brand new building, and we’re going to want some new things to put in it,” board Chairman Todd Smith said at the meeting. “We’ve come to realize that because of the pricing, this isn’t going to be able to happen, so (Howard and Bucknam) are going to utilize some of the stuff they have, like desks, chairs and moveable stuff, and they’ll replace it as needed — no different than they do now.”

“I know we can put this project in motion using that reserve account funding,” Smith said. “I struggle with that because I do still believe that the ballot was written in a sense that we were not going to exceed that ($8.9 million) price in completing the building.”

So far, Skowhegan has spent about $670,000 on the project, including the cost to buy the land in 2018 and contracting with consultants and engineers. The town has already hired Haley Ward Inc., a Bangor-based consulting group.

The new building is planned for the corner of East Madison Road and Dunlop Lane. Planning began in October 2020, with a goal of occupying the new facility by the end of 2022, although that is subject to change.

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