Norwell residents will be asked to consider some big-ticket items, including a $5.2 million appropriation for a new 12,000-square-foot police station, at the Oct. 7 Special Town Meeting.
Town Administrator Jim Boudreau said a new building for the Police Department, which would be attached to the existing fire station on Washington Street (Route 53), is much needed.
“The current structure is inadequate and doesn’t meet most of the necessary codes,” he said. “And in terms of emergency response and community safety, having the departments together makes sense.”
If Town Meeting approves the request, a special town election would be held Oct. 19 to vote on the debt-exclusion override for the project.
Board of Selectmen chairwoman Ellen Allen called the existing police station on River Street “very unsafe” and said renovating the facility and bringing it up to code would cost more than a new police station.
In 2011, residents voted down a proposal similar to what’s on the table now.
“At that Town Meeting, residents were very clear that they wanted a more thorough, in-depth look at the possibility of renovating the existing police station for less,” Allen said. “We’ve done that, and this proposal makes the most sense.”
If the override is approved, the average cost to local taxpayers will be less than $100 a year, with that amount decreasing annually as the 20-year bond amortizes, Allen said.
A two-thirds Town Meeting vote is needed for the article to pass and be eligible for a vote at the special election.
In an effort to convince residents that this is a necessary expenditure, the Norwell Police Department will be hosting several open houses for residents to see firsthand the building’s conditions. Those dates are Tuesday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Oct. 2 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 5 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“A picture is worth a thousand words, so I think it’s a great idea,” Allen said of the police station tours. “The cells have been cited many times as having multiple suicide risks in them, the area where the prisoners are brought in is very cramped, and the building doesn’t meet any of the building or [Americans with Disabilities Act] codes. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Another large funding item on the Town Meeting warrant is a request for nearly $2.9 million from the Community Preservation Fund for making improvements to the high school athletic fields. Those improvements include changing the surface of the two multi-use rectangular fields from grass to artificial turf.
“There is much more use than we have capacity for,” said Boudreau. “Most surrounding towns have at least one turf field, so we’re just going to be catching up.”
Other expenditures being sought from the Community Preservation Fund include $900,000 for the design and construction of the next segment of a pedestrian and bicycle pathway from the middle school to Forest Street; $114,000 to move the historic Sergeant Samuel Stetson House to the entrance of the new town cemetery on Stetson Shrine Lane; and $52,030 to make improvements to the historic Jacob’s Farm property, including installing a well.
Residents will also be asked to appropriate $619,000 for the town to purchase property at the end of Simon Hill Road that will connect to other town-owned land and where, according to Boudreau, significant Native American artifacts and relics have been found, and $370,000 to purchase a 10-acre parcel of waterfront property that will give residents access to the North River. “That’s a great piece of land for a pretty good price,” Boudreau said.
Allen said she expects much interest in a zoning bylaw change being proposed that would, among other things, increase the allowable height of buildings in commercially zoned areas to help attract business to town.
“This is a revised proposal of an article that did not pass at Town Meeting in May,” Allen said. “There have been significant changes — including increasing from 400 to 800 feet the minimum required distance of the structures from residents — to avoid any visual impact on abutting neighbors.”
Allen and Boudreau both said that attracting businesses to Norwell is paramount, as it will increase the commercial tax base.
“This is really important so we can maintain the quality of services without needing overrides as often or as large going forward,” Allen said.