An architectural rendering depicts plans for a new Augusta Police Department building off Willow Street. Rendering courtesy of Port City Architecture

AUGUSTA — The new Augusta Police Station planned off Willow Street will be built to last.

It’s planned to be built of synthetic stone and brick to fit in with the existing architecture of the city; have a two-story public lobby; include a hardened exterior to ensure it can keep operating through disasters both natural or manmade; feature a roof covered in electricity-producing solar panels; and be built on ground that will be raised about 3 feet to be above the water in even a 500-year-flood.

City officials praised the proposed design for the building at the site of a former Hannaford, but are concerned about the timing of construction, which could start around the end of the year. They’re also worried about the potential for cost increases pushing the project over budget due to ongoing issues with supply chains, and the high cost of petroleum and building materials made from it.

In September of last year, the architect hired to design the new station, Andrew Hyland, a principal partner in Portland-based Port City Architecture, said he thought the $20.5 million the city has budgeted to build the new station was more than ample. So, he was confident features such as solar panels, to increase the building’s long-term sustainability, could be added to the project and it could still come in under budget.

Hyland on Thursday told city councilors that he, like them, has watched with concern as the cost of just about everything has increased and some supplies, including building materials, have been hard to find due to supply-chain problems. But he said he still feels comfortable the project can be built with the $20.5 million voters approved for it in June 2021. He noted the design of the building was kept fairly simple, and can use different building materials if some materials become more expensive than others, to make changes to try to save funds and stay within that budget. He said, for example, sometimes steel has been cheaper than wood, and the project could use either wood or steel studs and trusses.

“Prices are going crazy, but I still feel comfortable” in staying within budget, Hyland told city councilors during an update on the project Thursday night. “There are real concerns on supply-chain issues. I can’t control the price of goods. We’re able to make changes and we can react and not get a finished product out and then find out we have to take money out of it.”

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The two-story, 25,000-square-foot building as currently designed will have two elevators, an evidence lab and management archives, interview rooms allowing multiple people to be interviewed by police at the same time, a dispatch center, a drive-thru sallyport to bring people in custody into the building, weapons storage, a fitness area, training room, and locker room.

Matt Nazar, the city’s development director, said the project could be ready for construction around the end of the year and complete 12 to 16 months after that.

“I’m hedging a little because I’m keenly aware of supply-chain issues and it’s making me a little nervous,” he said.

Ward 3 Councilor Mike Michaud expressed concerns that the city, in a marketplace where contractors are in high demand, won’t be able to find a firm to take on the job by the end of the year. However, Hyland said he is already seeing significant interest in the potentially high-profile project from construction managers, and he’s gotten weekly calls from them expressing interest.

Even so, city councilors and police Chief Jared Mills seemed thrilled with Port City’s proposed design, which they said provides a dramatic increase in the functionality and security needed in a public safety building. City officials also said the building design looks welcoming to the public and fits in with existing area architecture, including the Inn at City Hall in a historic brick building across Willow Street from the site, which previously was Augusta’s city hall and later a police station.

“This building, looking at the old police department across the street, and looking at (Augusta City Center, which is across Cony Street from the site), I think this building fits to a T and kudos to you and your staff for creating a building that looks like it belongs here,” Michaud said. “I think it’s a gem.”

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Mills said Hyland met with nearly everyone in the police department to make sure the design of the building met the needs of each division.

With an eye toward the future, proposed amenities at the site include a few parking lot chargers to power up electric police cruisers, which Hyland said are likely to be in use in the very near future.

The building’s rooftop solar panels proposed in the design would produce electricity.

The building will be built to “Category 4” building standards required for new public safety facilities, with a hardened exterior meant to withstand natural disasters, bollards surrounding the structure to protect it from vehicles, and secure areas, inside, separated from the publicly accessible lobby with its brightly-lit, two-story columned entrance, divided from the secure areas of the building by fortified walls and bulletproof glass.

“It’s constructed to, basically, the highest standards so the building withstands whatever the weather might throw at it, and that building remains functional and operational at all times,” Nazar said.

Hyland said that also requires the 7 Willow St. site upon which the station will be built to be raised up about 3 feet, to get it up above the floodwaters from the nearby Kennebec River that might be expected in a 500-year flood.

The next step in the project is for the city to hire a construction management firm to oversee construction. Hyland and Nazar said the construction manager will be able to put a firmer figure on the cost of construction.

The 1962 former Hannaford supermarket building on the site now will be demolished. An existing major sewer line on the site, buried less than a foot below the current parking lot, prompted the building to be located toward the back of the property, and one section of the sewer line will be moved to accommodate the station.

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