NORTH SMITHFIELD – While most residents agree something needs to be done about the aging North Smithfield Police Station on Smithfield Road, an estimated $ 18 million prize is turning heads among voters who say it’s is more than the city can afford.
Several residents told city councilors at a public hearing on Wednesday, November 17 that while they understand that the current location of the department requires a complete replacement or major renovations, the plans proposed by an architect earlier this year were too expensive. Ana Parsons, a former city council candidate, argued that the proposal does not reflect what is best for the city.
“The proposal seems a bit excessive and needs to be reduced to the essentials rather than the wishes that have been incorporated,” she said.
Ann Lilley, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the city is considering another major project to renovate the old Halliwell School into a senior or community center. Lilley said she had a problem with officers getting a new training area in the train station when the city runs out of space to hold exercise programs for the elderly.
“We can’t afford $ 18 million because we too in our community have been discussing a senior center and a community center,” she said.
Douglas Osier, a former city council member, also spoke out against the planned price, saying the station as proposed would rival those in communities with twice the population of North Smithfield. He proposed a station between 12,000 and 17,000 square feet rather than the 22,214 square foot building envisioned in the renderings.
“An $ 18 million police station is unrealistic for Nova Scotia. Honestly, what are we doing? ” he said.
In September, Tecton Architects, a Connecticut firm hired to assess the future of the police station, presented two options to the city. Building a new station on the same site, they said, would cost around $ 18.3 million for a 22,214 square foot building. The renovation of the old station to current police standards was to cost $ 17.5 million for a 23,354 square foot building. Preliminary plans for a new building included a municipal courtroom as well as a double exit port and garages.
Last Wednesday, City Council Chairman John Beauregard asked if the architect could cut out parts of the project, including the municipal courtroom and garage space, and downsize other parts. Although he has been a strong supporter of building a new police station from the start, Beauregard admitted that voters were unlikely to approve an $ 18 million bond along with other significant expenses that looming in the future.
“If I can be very frank, I’m trying to save the project because $ 18 million, I don’t think voters would go for that,” he said.
Councilor Kim Alves also raised concerns about the size of the project. Alves called the added size of the new building “wasted space” and asked how the department went from a 15,000 square foot building to a project over 22,000 square feet.
“I think it’s a lot of exaggeration, sorry Chief, to have a toilet in the Chief’s office,” she said. “That’s a lot of fluff that we don’t really need.”
Beauregard began the public hearing portion of the meeting by urging residents to focus on the current proposals. The debate over whether to build a new police station has been going on for nearly a decade, with several residents pointing to the plans of the former Public Building Improvement Commission to renovate the station at a significantly lower cost.
“You can talk about this particular building, that’s fine, or you can waste your time talking about the past,” Beauregard said.
The warning did not stop residents from telling the story of the project. In a meeting two days earlier, Michael Clifford, a resident who has repeatedly called for the renovation of the existing station, distributed handouts raising concerns about a company previously involved in urban construction projects. Clifford has often argued that renovation estimates should be closer to an initial budget of $ 900,000 developed for the project in 2014.
In response, Tony Guertin, a former candidate for city administration, read the meeting agendas on Wednesday indicating that as early as 2016, members of the Public Building Improvement Commission knew the project’s budget would not be sufficient. Former city administrator Gary Ezovski pointed to similar meeting minutes in a letter read aloud at the meeting.
“We never had the money to do that, and we still don’t, to do anything related to a renovation,” Guertin said.
Clifford and resident Mike Rapko urged councilors to compare the proposal to stations in other communities of similar size. Clifford pointed out that Malden, Mass., A community of 61,000 people, built a new police station in 2014 for the equivalent of $ 16.9 million today.
The only resident who didn’t seem alarmed at the cost was Jeffrey Porter, an architect by trade who sits on Halliwell’s planning council and review committee. Porter listed the prices of several municipal projects he is currently working on and said construction costs have changed dramatically since 2014.
“I didn’t even flinch when they mentioned $ 18 million,” he said.
Porter urged the council to consider building a public safety complex that would combine police and fire facilities.
Beauregard said the next step for the board is to decide which option and how much will appear on a bond issue for voters. The council plans to have more public hearings on the matter in the future, he said.