Building project revised

MILFORD – Rising costs have shrunk plans for a new police station to the point that the Board of Selectmen came within one vote of all but canceling the project Monday.

After debate about reduced expectations, the board voted 3-2 to continue with the $2.95 million police station, which is tentatively set to open next fall. If one more selectman had voted no, the project would have been put on hold unless voters approved more construction money.

The opposition came not because the plan is bad, but because it is less than what was approved at Town Meeting in March.

“My concern has to do with whether this (plan) is what the voters expected,” said Selectman Len Mannino, who voted against the station.

Selectmen Chairwoman Cynthia Herman opposed it for the same reason.

Under a proposal presented to selectmen Monday by architect Gary Goudreau and Building Committee Chairman Joseph Stella, the floor plan has shrunk from 15,500 to 13,400 square feet, compared with the drawings distributed before Town Meeting.

Further, items such as a dog kennel and a separate communications room have been scrapped, while the exterior has been simplified by removing some roof gables and brick work, and shifting the community room inside the main structure.

These and other changes were needed, Stella told selectmen Monday, to meet the $2.95 million budget, due to increased construction costs since the building first was proposed several years ago.

“It’s things like plywood, which is all going to Florida or China,” Stella said in an interview Tuesday.

“We really wanted to go with the building (presented to voters in March), but it just hasn’t proved realistic. If we’d gone any deeper into the cuts, it would make it irrational to even spend the money . . . but I think this is still a good building for the Police Department and for the town.”

Last March, the new police station was touted as big enough to last for 20 years, but Police Chief Fred Douglas said Monday that he thought his department would outgrow the smaller plan within a decade.

“Operationally, it will work,” Douglas said. “But square-footage-wise it is not what was purported to the public. . . . If it has to be expanded (within 20 years), taxpayers will question, as I would, ‘Why? Didn’t we already pay for this?’”

Support for the smaller option on the Board of Selectmen was driven by distaste at leaving the Police Department in the current station, which is a dilapidated former motel, as well as the prospect of ever-rising construction costs.

“If we don’t (build it now), we’ll get less next time,” argued Selectman Larry Pickett, who supported the plan after hearing that a year’s delay could add $200,000 to the price tag.

Stella agreed.

“If you say, ‘This isn’t what the people voted for’ and stop it, you could be three to five years out before you revisit it. . . . Are you going to come back to the same people and say, ‘Just kidding, we need another million’? You may not pull that off,” he said.

The station would be built at the site of the former Garden Street School, which burned in an arson fire in March, one day before Town Meeting. No charges have been placed in the arson.

According to Stella, it was clear from early in the Building Committee process that in order to keep costs under $2.95 million, changes would have to be made to a building plan that was largely carried over from proposals that voters didn’t approve in past years.

The first estimates indicated the two-story building would run $700,000 over budget, Stella said. That number was cut to $160,000, but getting closer required other changes approved reluctantly by selectmen, including eliminating much of the landscape work, giving the parking lot just one coat of sealing instead of two, and not hiring a clerk of the works to oversee construction.

Further, no new furniture would be bought with the $2.95 million. Instead, selectmen would ask voters for permission to use interest from the bond – probably about $60,000 – to buy new furniture and computers. The cost of tearing down the old Garden Street School, roughly $200,000, is also not covered; that has been paid by the School District.

To an extent, the changes are being made now rather than later because the station would be built under a “guaranteed maximum price” contract. This means that the building company, MacMillin Co. of Keene, would guarantee to build everything under a certain price – but this price only would be set when detailed construction drawings were completed by the architect, probably in February.

The current cuts come about as MacMillin has given guidelines to the Budget Committee about what is likely to be possible within the $2.95 million budget, so the construction drawings are not too grandiose.