September 28, 2011

Officials identify three possible sites for city's police station

Waterville locations in running include newspaper building

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- City officials on Tuesday revealed the three sites they are considering for a new police station: the Morning Sentinel building on Front Street, a city-owned parking lot at Head of Falls and land on Colby Circle.

Mayor Dana Sennett on Tuesday morning gave a tour of the newspaper building to police Chief Joseph Massey and Deputy police Chief Charles Rumsey.

"They thought that space-wise, it was adequate," Sennett, an advertising account executive for the Morning Sentinel, said later. "That's about their only comment."

Last week, City Manager Michael Roy said a study committee identified three sites for a new station and a subcommittee is discussing purchase prices with the owners, but he could not reveal the site locations, as doing so could damage the city's position in negotiations.

Sennett, however, revealed the Sentinel location when he led Massey and Rumsey through the newsroom Tuesday. Contacted afterward, Roy revealed the Head of Falls parking lot and Colby Circle locations as well.

"At some point it's going to come out and obviously, they're (committee members) looking, so we're not going to keep that a secret," Roy said.

Roy said he said believes Sennett was the first person to approach the city about selling the Sentinel building for use as a police station.

Anthony Ronzio, editor and publisher of the Morning Sentinel and its sister paper in Augusta, the Kennebec Journal, confirmed that the city has expressed interest in the Sentinel building.

"We love the Sentinel building," Ronzio said. "It's perfectly situated in the heart of downtown and meets our needs. We would not have considered selling it absent this recent interest from the city, but have come to the conclusion it's more space than we need. We could, if the city makes us a fair offer, consider other space nearby, either rented or owned."

The City Council earlier this year voted to spend $2.5 million on a new police station. City officials said the current department in the basement of City Hall is cramped, antiquated and inadequate for its needs.

The study committee has been exploring three options for a new station: renovating the existing station, building a new station or renovating and moving into an existing building.

"Recognizing that we can either build new, use an existing site or stay put, and the desire to stay in the downtown area, the Sentinel building seems to be a natural fit," Sennett said Tuesday after he led the tour.

He said that until Tuesday, police officials were able to see only the size and exterior of the building and the tour allowed them to view the physical layout inside.

Sennett said that while the council approved spending $2.5 million for a police station, officials would like to spend less than that if possible.

"My concern is taking a taxable property off the tax rolls for a city-owned building," Sennett said, adding that the Sentinel pays about $31,000 in taxes annually.

Roy said the city has discussed a purchase price for the Sentinel building, but declined to reveal it.

The city's online database lists the assessed value of the Sentinel building at $1.2 million.

The city-owned parking lot being considered is between the Sentinel building and the park at Head of Falls. The Morning Sentinel has rights to park in that lot, so if the city chose that site, it would have to deal with that deeded right of use, Roy said.

The land being considered on Colby Circle is 1.53 vacant acres owned by Hight Partners. The property's street address is Front Street Extension and the assessed value is $59,000. Hight bought the land in 1994, but the purchase price is unclear in the city records.

Hight also owns other property on Colby Circle, including the land where the Waterville District Court and the Social Security Administration building are.

Roy said choosing a site for the police station may require an architect, and the city has not yet hired one.

"That's why I think this is a pretty long and drawn-out process," he said. "We're tentatively identifying sites, making sure that they're available."

The Morning Sentinel is allowing police to park in its lot off Front Street while the Waterville Opera House construction is under way.

Massey, Rumsey and Council Chairman Charles Stubbert Jr., D-Ward 1, did not immediately return calls Tuesday afternoon.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247

acalder@centralmaine.com

 

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