On the heels of opening the new Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary school, the Town of Brunswick is on the verge of additional growth in both its facilities and its land ownership. It seems nearly certain that the town will build a new police station at the corner of Stanwood and Pleasant Streets. In addition, we will acquire Bowdoin College’s McLellan building at the corner of Union and Noble Streets for use as a new town hall. There are plans to build a parking garage adjacent to the McLellan building to support the parking needs of the new town hall and to handle the increased parking pressure brought on by the Maine Street Station development.
Each of these moves raises a number of questions:
- Is it needed?
- Why that particular location?
- How much will it cost?
- How will it be paid for? Where will the money come from?
- If it’s expensive can the costs be justified?
- Are there hidden costs?
- How will we dispose of the buildings and property that we currently use for these purposes?
The Police Station.
- The need. A new police station is needed. Even the most ardent detractors of town spending, or of the Stanwood/Pleasant location, agree that the current police station in the basement of the town hall building at 28 Federal Street is deficient. Efforts have been made since 1977 to come up with solution to the inadequate police work space. Detractors of the current plan always say, “It’s not that we’re against the police station, we’re just against the location and the cost.”
- The location. When considering whether the proposed location at the corner of Stanwood and Pleasant Street is the “best” location we need to first consider what is available. Another important factor is the operational needs of the police department. Many alternates have been considered, both informally by town staff, and formally by two separate town committees, the second committee being made up of four councilors and five citizens.
- Both committees have concluded that the Pleasant and Stanwood Street site is the best of those available. The availability of the location is a key factor. While a town–in certain cases–does have the power to take land by eminent domain as long as the benefit to the public is clear, it is a rare case that would justify the taking of private property. Put simply, the location at Pleasant and Stanwood Streets was available; the property owners were willing to sell it. We know this because they tried hard to sell it for a proposed Walgreens several years ago.
- A second major consideration is the operational needs to the police department. Locating the police station in a place that satisfies the functional requirements of the police department is crucial. In addition the police station ought to be located centrally, easily identifiable, and as a part of the social hub of the town. While this last piece is not, strictly speaking, necessary, it is an important consideration.
- Occasionally citizens approach us with a “new” or alternate location. Most often one of the committees has already considered and rejected each of these “new” suggestions. I can’t list them all here, but if you have an idea email through the “contact” button above and I’ll try to tell you what became of that idea. However, there were several other obvious locations which were available, or may have become available at some point in the future. Each was considered in some detail.
- The Old Times Record Building. This is a white elephant purchased with the approval of the Town Council in 2003 for future municipal use. It cost the town $1.3million in 2004. Since that time we’ve spent more than $1million on it.
- The building itself is obsolete and cannot, except at great expense, be converted for police use. A new building would be cheaper (for various technical reasons, new police structures must be built according to rigid specifications; one can say that the current site is “grandfathered”). While the building itself is useless as a police station consideration was given to demolishing the building and building a new station there from scratch. At least this way the taxpayer would be saved the expense of acquiring the land.
- However, rebuilding at the Old Times Record site was rejected because the location is unsuitable. The old Times Record Building is located on Industry Road at the end of Water Street, there is only one access point to the site, Water Street.
- By contrast the Stanwood and Pleasant site can be exited in four directions: Stanwood, Mill, Pleasant Street heading east, and Pleasant Street heading west. It can be reached from three of those directions.
- In addition, the Old Times Record building is too far off the beaten path. By contrast, the Pleasant and Stanwood location is within easy distance of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Coffin and the Brunswick Junior High Schools School, the library, the post office, several churches, both the old and new town halls and two of three major commercial districts. In some cases it is walking distance from these locations.
- The corner of Weymouth and Union. This site was under consideration because its location fit the police departments requirements both operationally and from “social” standpoints. However, the price became too high. Even at $1million the Pleasant and Stanwood location is much cheaper.
- The former naval air station. Locations between the end of the runway (opposite Fat Boy) and the entrance to the old navy base were also considered, but for several reasons were also rejected. Operationally, the location is acceptable, if not as good as others, but the isolation of the location was seen as a big negative factor. More important though were two big uncertainties: we did not know whenthe land would be made available by the federal government, and we did not have a clear picture of the costs of the land. The redevelopment authority is required by base closure law to sell land for “fair market value,” partly in order to insure that all this surplus land does not damage the existing local market for real estate. Land for the police station at the case would probably have cost between $200,000 and $300,000. To be sure this is less expensive that then nearly $1million paid by the BDC (see the BDC page for more on what it is) for the land at Pleasant and Stanwood Street, but the Police Station committee saw the additional expense as worthwhile in relationship to all the other factors.
- 28 Federal Street. Many people ask why not just use the whole of the building at 28 Federal Street for a police station? It is evident that town offices will be moving to Bowdoin College’s McClellan Building by the fall of 2014. Why not wait until then and devote the entire current town hall building to police use. After all, that site has all of the good location factors needed and we already own the land.
- Again, as with the Old Times Record Building, the structure itself is obsolete, the police and consultants tell the committee that it cannot be done without tearing down and rebuilding the entire structure. In addition there are space limitations to the lot that would require either acquiring additional nearby land, or moving the recreation department and using its location too. This is mainly because of the requirement for a “sally-port” for bringing those arrested in and out of the police station (currently a stairway is used, this is dangerous for both our police officers and for those detained).
- Moreover, a temporary location would be needed during construction.
- How much will it cost? Where will the money come from? Estimates right now for the building of a new police station at Pleasant and Stanwood Street are are close to $7 million.
- About $1.1 million is for the land, but this cost has been borne by the BDC. There is a plan, once the new police station is built and town offices have moved over to the McClellan Building in 2014, that the town will trade the building at 28 Federal Street (the current town hall) to the BDC for the land at Pleasant and Stanwood.
- The building itself will cost at least $5,635,814. This cost will be footed by Brunswick taxpayers. By issuing bonds we will borrow the money and repay it over a period of time, most likely twenty years. Just as with a conventional loan, the interest due every year will be a part of the town’s budget. It will be paid with tax dollars.
A New Town Hall, Bowdoin’s McClellan Building
- On October 3rd, 2011 the town council voted to swap the now closed Longfellow School building with Bowdoin College. The college will give us the McClellan building located near the Hannaford store on Union St. You can find a picture of it above. I voted against the trade. The primary reason is that Bowdoin also offered to buy the Longfellow School building from us. For $2 million. Longfellow School was appraised at something less that $1 million so Bowdoin’s offer was very generous.
- There is no question that the McClellan Building will provide town staff a much nicer work space than what they now have. Nonetheless, I have several doubts about it.
- First, is its impact on taxes. Last year, even though overall town spending went down, your taxes went up. The reason for this is that the town’s revenues have also been going down, due to a combination of factors (Fewer students in school has reduced the state subsidy to our schools. State revenue sharing has been greatly reduced because of political changes in Augusta, but also because state tax revenues are down due to the general economic conditions. Federal stimulus money has begun to dry up). Taken altogether these factors greatly reduced the amount of money the town takes in from other sources; as a result, even though we spent less, we had to raise property taxes.
- In the last two years the town has cut many positions (6-10 municipal employees and 40 to 60 school employees), we also closed the Jordan acres elementary school. Yet we still raised property taxes
- Bowdoin College was prepared to pay the town $2 million for the Longfellow School. $1 million up front and the balance over the next few years. The first $1 million represents about a 3.39% increase in property taxes. I am certain when budget season comes around again in April 2012, the town council will be looking for more than just $1 million. Because the problem in balancing the town’s budget these last few years has not been spending–we’ve cut, and cut some more on basic services–but income, we should have looked much harder at the Longfellow School building as a source of revenue.
- Second, hidden costs. The McClellan Building is now used as office space and art studios by the college. It will need to be refitted to accommodate municipal needs including large meeting spaces. We have placed $200,000 in the capital improvement plan (CIP) for the purpose but it remains to be seen if that will be enough. (I wrote this paragraph in October 2011. By March 2012 after the vote had been taken the renovation costs at McClellan had ballooned to $848,000. In March 2012 the college once again offered to pay cash for the Longfellow School rather than trade the McClellan building. The College still offered $2 million but in addition offered to extend the towns lease on the council chambers at a very favorable rate as well as absorb the costs of all hazardous materials abatement at Longfellow School. On March 27, the council once again rejected the College’s offer. I voted to take the money).
- A parking garage. The CIP also contains an item noting $3.4million for a parking garage to deal with the additional parking stress in the area of Maine Street Station. Although there is a vague hope that some of the costs of this project will come from grants, or from the BDC, to this point none of our grant applications have been accepted. Does the town moving to the McClellan building makes this $3.4million garage necessary, or inevitable, instead of just desirable?
- Because we are having no luck with the grant applications town staff is taking anew look at the time table for building a garage and pursuing alternate funding models (see the Forecaster Article dated October 6, 2011 under categories).
- Third, do we need it? With the police station planning to leave its space in the basement of 28 Federal Street, would it make sense to simply renovate that space for town hall, or even just for storage? During the council meeting on October 3rd, Manager Brown sited our use of the Old Times Record Building for storage as one reason to acquire the McClellan Building. We can move old files back into the new town hall. Is this a good use of the most expensive office space in Brunswick? Especially as there have been no takers at all for the Old Times Record Building during the more than one year it has been on the market?
- Fourth, what do we do with 28 Federal St? We may trade it for the BDC (see BDC page) for the land at Pleasant and Stanwood Street, but this can only happen if we’re successful in building the new police station. We’re told the BDC has “exciting” plans for it.