Old school site recommended for new station

MILFORD – As expected, a planning committee has recommended that Milford tear down the Garden Street School and build a new police station there – and as expected, the main concerns appear to be the cost and the loss of a historic, community-owned building.

“We see this (proposed station) as a very bare-bones, functional building, nothing too fancy – kind of like the Garden Street School,” said Donna Barr, chairman of the 19-member Facilities Master Plan Committee during the formal unveiling of the group’s recommendation Monday night.

The group, which has been meeting since April, suggested a two-story, 15,500-square foot police station could be erected for $2.95 million, including $150,000 to tear down the 77-year-old Garden Street School. They argued that this would meet the police needs for 20 years, and by as early as January 2005 get the department out of the decrepit ex-motel it has occupied for more than a decade.

The proposal now goes to the Board of Selectmen, which must decide whether to put it, or a variation of it, on the Town Meeting warrant in March.

Voters have rejected three past attempts to build a new police station, although none involved the 2-acre site on which Garden Street School sits.

The committee said using Garden Street School as it is would be too expensive, largely because reinforcing the Terracotta interior walls to meet post-Sept. 11 safety standards would add $900,000 to the cost and reduce usable space by about 8,000 square feet.

However, Budget Committee member Joseph Stella questioned the wisdom of tearing down the school when future growth is likely to make

“I hate to lose 20,000 square feet of space that we might need,” he said.

Garden Street School, built in 1926, has been both a high school and elementary school over the decades. It held its final set of regular classes last year and is now used only for the Sage School, a facility for about two-dozen teens who have trouble adjusting to traditional classrooms.

Committee members said in response that they felt cost concerns ruled out the score of other options they examined, and that the larger, and more historic, Bales School also sits empty a block away.

Another Budget Committee member, David Quigley, expressed concern at the price tag and said he thought 15,500 square feet was too big.

“If we could take off 5,000 square feet and save a million dollars, it could be used for other departments, roads, recreation, that are in need,” he said.

Committee members argued that the size was needed to meet reasonable police expansion plans for the next 20 years – the timeline requested by selectmen when the committee was formed.

The group also recommended the town tear down the current station at the intersection of routes 101 and 101A in west Milford, and sell the property.

It estimated that the tax impact of a 20-year bond for the proposal would be 38 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, costing the owner of a $150,000 home an extra $57 per year.