New Waterville police station

March 12, 2012

Sentinel building price only part of council discussion

By Amy Calder
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- As city councilors weigh the potential benefits of turning the building that houses the Morning Sentinel into a police station rather than building a new one, the bargain-basement cost of the building is just one small part of the discussion.

click image to enlarge

Still being discussed: The Morning Sentinel newspaper building on Front Street in Waterville is still under consideration as the location for a new police station.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The council will take a second vote March 20 on whether to buy the building at 31 Front St., across the street from city hall, for $500,000, to retrofit it for a police station.

Last Tuesday, Morning Sentinel owner MaineToday Media Inc. asked $600,000 for the building, down from an initial asking price of $1.5 million. The council took a 4-3 vote to buy it for $500,000, but MaineToday hasn't said whether it agrees to the lower price. The council also nullified a Feb. 7 vote it took to build a new station at Head of Falls.

While the price for the Sentinel building is low, those against buying the building are concerned about added costs of energy and the lack of ability to expand at the site, among other things. Those in favor of buying the building, however, say it's a workable bargain for the city in tough economic times.

City Manager Michael Roy told the council last week that building new would cost the city $2.6 million to $2.75 million. He said buying and renovating the Sentinel building would cost $2 million to $2.2 million.

Roy contends that while it appears building new is more costly, the city would save money in the long run because buying the Sentinel building would mean losing $30,725 annually in property taxes from that building and paying an additional $15,000 annually in higher energy costs in the existing building versus a new one.

"The cost difference is not substantial enough to offset the very serious functional issues with the inside and outside spaces (of the Sentinel building)," Roy said Friday. "And we are not, in any way, going to be close to having an optimal layout of the police offices within that existing building."

The city in a best-case scenario could build a new station for $2.6 million and in a worst case, $2.75 million, according to his numbers. With the best case scenario of building new for $2.6 million, the city would pay $186,200 annually in debt payments and at worst $196,900 for building at $2.75 million.

Buying and retrofitting the Sentinel building for a police station would cost, best case scenario, $2 million, and worst case, $2.2 million, according to Roy. The total annual debt payment for best case would be $190,325; worst case, $204,725. The estimates include MaineToday Media, Inc.'s $600,000 asking price, as well as the $45,725 that would be lost annually in property taxes and additional yearly energy costs.

"Those have to be factored into the annual cost," Roy said. "While the debt service looks attractive in renovating versus new, there are other costs. I'm convinced that in the long run -- a 30-year perspective -- the new construction is a better financial deal for the city."

Building new would net the city exactly what it wants for the police department, Roy said. The Sentinel site does not have enough room for a sally port and parking -- including handicapped parking, he said. And the one-way drive around the building would create problems with snow plowing and traffic circulation, he said.

The 15-year-old Sentinel building was not built to be as energy-efficient as a new building today, he added. Structural changes must be made to the building and, given the location of the elevator, stairs and hallways, 35 percent of the space will be lost, he said. He also questions whether the Sentinel lot has adequate space for handicapped parking.

(Continued on page 2)

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