Since 2006, the town has been working on a plan to build a new police station. The multi-year effort culminated in a design for a new one-story building that would replace the existing police station. But members of the Municipal Facilities Committee told selectmen on Tuesday night they don’t think that design will actually meet the town’s needs.
Member Scott Weiss said the committee has “major concerns” about the design of the new building, which would be built on the same site as the existing police station. “We question whether this layout will best meet current and long-term needs.”
The town spent $98K on developing the schematic design for the new building. The cost to construct it is estimated at $7.8M.
Facilities Manager Phil Rinehart said among other things, storage in the new building would be insufficient even for the department’s current needs. They would also lose garage space under the new design. “We’re not spending tax payer dollars prudently,” he said.
The Municipal Facilities Committee first presented a conceptual design for the 12,000 square-foot building to selectmen back in November 2008. Since that time, membership on the Municipal Facilities Committee changed almost wholesale thanks to a number of resignations.
“In the course of the project, a lot of people have changed, and the people who became involved had different opinions,” Municipal Facilities Committee member Mike Hartnett told selectmen. Hartnett is the only one of the five members who has been with the committee since the beginning.
Weiss said as new members joined the project, it was important to take a “critical eye” to the design.
“In reviewing the report, I darn near tore my hair out,” Selectman John Rooney said. “What did we get for the amount of time you all put in and the amount of money the town spent?”
“This is a good, well-thought out plan that addressed the issues seen at time,” Weiss said. “It is a reasonable answer to the problem, it’s just not the one we as a committee feel is the most appropriate answer.”
“I don’t feel the information we received early on has been wasted, because it’s usable information,” Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said.
“They’ve all worked very, very hard and put their hearts into it,” Police Chief Jane Moran said of the committee. “New people came on board, I came on board. We just saw things differently. It was very courageous of everyone to voice the shortcomings they saw.”
The design of the new building was started while the late William Weber was police chief. Moran joined the project in December 2008 when she was appointed interim police chief after Webber’s death.
While the Municipal Facilities Committee focused on designing a new building to replace the existing police station, the Historical Commission has been advancing an alternate scheme that would renovate the existing building and add onto it.
Ultimately, any plan for a new or renovated police station would need to come before voters at town meeting, but Phaneuf said there is currently no timeline for when that might happen. “At some point we’re going to be building a new police station.”
I know that I’ll be paying closer attention at future TMs whenever someone asks for money for a study. I know that most of them are probably necessary if executed well, but the amounts of money are too large to just rubber stamp.
$98k is 2 teachers, isn’t it?
As a town, we do not do a very efficient job with our building and facility management. We don’t ask enough questions at town meeting and we don’t attend enough selectmen’s meeting to get the details. And yes, I am just as guilty of this as the rest of us.
Unfortunately we have a history of spending tons of money on these studies. Think back to how much we spent on a study regarding the use of the town building on Central that houses just Cable Access and Youth and Family Service. They think of how much we spent to buy the house next door only to tear it down. Now try to find out how much we have spent and will continue to spend on the old Peter’s High School Annex.
Is a police building that much different than any other building? Are its construction needs much different than any other town building? I don’t know.
With all of the vacant office space in the area, especially the office building near the T station on 85, wouldn’t it be cheaper to try to buy that building and convert it?
The cable replay of the recent selectmen’s meeting said the police station plan was supposed to satisfy the town’s needs for the next 30 – 40 years yet the had much less space than was needed. Also, I believe the cost was somewhere around $500 per square foot!
I hope serious efforts are underway to look at buying existing commercial buildings that are for sale. I hope this isn’t just an effort to make a new building look so out of reach and ineffective that it gives cover to efforts to declare the old police station a historical building and force us to renovate that building.
Do I understand this correctly? After at least two years and $98,000 of our money, the design sponsored by this committee, presumably overseen by the BOS since 2008, is not only outdated, but does not address the needs of a new police station? According to Facilities Manager Mr. Rinehart, the design does NOT EVEN meet current needs. And yet Ms. Phaneuf says that there is some “usable information.” Is there $98,000 worth of usable information?
How can this possibly be allowed to happen? Who is minding the store? This is a classic example of government waste and a lack of leadership. Two years and $98,000 later and we might have some usable information. Mr. Rooney, my condolences, you are likely to be bald shortly.
Unfortunately this is just a fraction of the money that has been spent making plans that haven’t yielded benefits. A larger sum than this was spent, as I recall, planning for a new senior center that, before it came to a Town Meeting vote, Selectmen decided was too expensive. It continues. At least $75,000 is currently being spent on writing a new zoning code that, based on resident reaction thus far, and its overreaching ambition, is at risk of yielding absolutely nothing.
With regard to all the building plans, Advisory Committee, based on its debt policy, recommended that we at least wait until we had paid down the bulk of the debt on the new schools, a few years yet, before planning anything new. The Board of Selectmen, then in an arrogant phase (which I hope now has come to an end) said, “We made a different debt policy. We’ll plan new buildings if we want to.” You see the result.
Furthermore there is a difficult hurdle for a new police station, even if, in a few years, we had the debt headroom that we don’t have today. If there must be some benefit to the community of residents from anything we decide to spend money for, then it is very hard to see how Advisory could, on that standard, recommend we vote money for a new police station, based on the current facts. There is simply no problem that impacts residents that a new police station will solve. Specifically we have no problem recruiting police, nor is police retention a problem, nor is crime a problem, nor police response to non-crime issues. No one considering buying a new home in Southborough checks out the police station, the way they may visit the schools. In short, although it is not modern, as are some in nearby Towns, and Selectmen might think they want a new one, the police station works. I can’t think of a good reason why a voter would increase their taxes for a decade or two to buy a new police station. What we should do with the old police station is diligently maintain it. Then, focus our attention on things that matter to residents, like working to be more efficient with the money we do collect.
From a larger view, the wastes of money that we have seen, on grandiose plans and misbegotten disciplinary proceedings, are further evidence that the Town has been mismanaged, for 10 years or more. This is not the fault of the Board of Selectmen or any individual. The Town has simply outgrown the management structure we have in place for it. This was the conclusion of the Town Governance Study Committee. They were correct, just ahead of the facts that would crash down on us and demonstrate it. We need a Town Manager form of government and a Board of Selectmen that steps back from management to act like a corporate board, working on oversight and policy, not day to day management. Until we remedy that, we can expect more than our share of waste and problems.
I think this post should be deleted as it is entirely too intelligent, insightful, and sensible.
I’m amazed that the town is considering incurring debt when we are at the peak of the debt curve for the town. Plus we have the higest debt obligation compared to the ten towns similar to Soutborough’s demographics. The advice that the Advisory committee has provided the town regarding our debt load seems to fall on deaf ears. What is $7.5 m divided by 16?
I’m with you.
I agree with John’s comment on our debt situation, the questionable benefits to citizens and tax payers of a new Police Station and the need for a Town Manager.
More to the point the Municipal Facilities Committee, in spite of it’s dedicated efforts, is not able to address the most fundamental issue facing our collective facilities inventory. That question is: “In light of continued declines in our K-8 population can we operate a high quality K-8 school system in a 3 school foot print? If we chose to do so what would we need to do to make this happen?”
For a variety of reasons if we went to a 3 school option Neary would probably be the surplus facility. This is a well maintained solid building that we own and have recently rennovated. If it can reasonably be transformed into a municipal facility then all of our plans for other facilities can take one path. If not then our long term facilities plans go another way.
This should be the #1 facilities question but it requires the Selectmen and K-8 School committee to summon the courage to ask the question and live with the answer.
Agreed, Al, regarding your “courage” comment.
Courage = Leadership.
Do we have it yet? Do we need one more election cycle to get it?
The reality is that Neary is under the control of the K-8 school committee. My understanding is that until they declare the facility surplus to their needs it remains under their control.
What is needed is a serious review of what would be required to operate a quality school system in a 3 school footprint. Among other things it requires an estimate of future school age populations and an assessment of options to improve the septic capacity of Trottier which currently limits the number of students that the facility can support.
It might well be that by investing a million dollars in septic improvements or a few portable classrooms we could easily accommodate the projected population. Or it might not but unless this issue is studied carefully and independently we will never know. I can live with either answer as long as we have carefully thought out the issues and options but we need to do this sooner rather than later.
The ideal solution would be to ask the BOS and K-8 School committees to appoint a joint committee to study the issue. As an alternative the Town Moderator could appoint a committee (this might require an article at Town Meeting). A third option would be to ask the Advisory committee to appoint a committee to investigate this.
I can live with either answer as long as we have carefully thought out the issues and options but we need to do this sooner rather than later.
That independent committee would be perfect for you to head up! To whom should we send our nominations?
New Police station!
What about the building for sale on Rt85 across from the entrance to the transfer station or the long vacant new office building on the corner of Rt85 and Cordaville road?
I agree with Al Hamilton and John Butler. Southborough already has a relatively high debt burden. Can’t we live with the facilities we have until we pay off the schools? How much is $7.7m divided by 16?
If I remember correctly, the BOS at the time that property was for sale a few years ago “pooh poohed” it when it was suggested that the Town look into it. Still a bargain, still more centrally located, still would be a nice combined Public Safety building.
Wasn’t there some action by the K-8 School Comm on this “4 down to 3” grammar school issue? I’m sure that I have read about or heard at Town Meeting some recognition by the Committee that this opportunity was in their future plans. Didn’t they cut back on some administrative or support position(s) in anticiaption of this move?
As for re-purposing Neary, I think it’s a great idea but also recall hearing something years ago about some serious new building code problems there that would need to be rather expensively overcome if major renovations occurred.
The K-8 school committee did a very cursory presentation on the subject and concluded that it might be possible some time in the future to operate a quality school program in a 3 school format.
I believe they would agree that a much more through job needs to be done before we even begin to seriously consider the a change.
We invested about $3 million in Neary to renovate the facility including boilers, roof, heating system, and a variety of other long term maintenance items that you would expect on a 30+ year old building. This amount invested was limited in part by the need to stay under a certain % of the buildings value. If we exceeded that number we would have to do a much more expensive upgrade to bring the building to the current code. Understanding where that upgrade boundary is now and what the implications are of crossing it should be part of the investigation.
The Superintendents office is a good example of reuse. He gave me a tour a few months ago. It took a few weeks to install the walls and turn school space into office space. The whole project can be reversed easily and returned to academic space in a matter of a few days.