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middleborough

Police station plan up to voters

$13m loan would allow renovation

A long-awaited overhaul of Middleborough’s police station will now depend on the will of town voters and whether they agree next spring to borrow up to $13 million to renovate and expand the nearly 200-year-old building on Main Street.

Residents will be asked at a June 2 Town Meeting, and subsequent June 14 town election, to approve a debt-exclusion override of the tax limits of Proposition 2½ for a two-story addition and maintenance facility. Work would add offices, locker rooms, an evidence area, meeting and equipment rooms, and a gym, as well as a sally port, or secure entrance, behind the building to allow officers to safely transport criminal suspects.

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The overhaul is a long time in coming and sorely needed, said Police Chief Bruce Gates, who chairs the police station building committee.

“If it all falls into place, and the stars align, we would probably start moving out the week after the vote passes,’’ Gates said.

Selectmen agreed last week to spend $5,000 on a lease option for the vacant Reedy’s archery shop on Center Street, which would become the Police Department’s temporary quarters over the expected year-long construction project. Rent would be $1,500 a month once the department settles into the 8,000-plus-square-foot downtown storefront, which also needs work to make it secure for holding prisoners, town officials said.

A staff of 39 officers and four civilians are crammed into the current police station, which has operated out of the former Peirce General Store since 1935. The 1819 building, located across from the town library, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was also the home, for four decades, of the Fourth District Court of Plymouth County, which shared space with the Police Department until 1977, when it moved to Wareham.

A 1996 town capital plan set a new police station as the town’s top priority, Gates said, but attention was deflected in the years since to the need for schools and fire stations.

Gates has characterized efforts to police the town from a 200-year-old building as a challenge at best — a game of Russian roulette, he said, considering the number of prisoners — some violent — who must be walked through public areas.

“This has been a long road, and we are praying we don’t have a tragedy before that happens,’’ he said.

If residents approve the debt-exclusion measure, taxes will be raised for the length of the bond, which is usually about 20 years.The department’s computer server is tucked into space next to where emergency bottles of oxygen are stored.

Town Manager Charles Cristello said the police station building committee is working with architects and other professionals to finalize a design and will soon put out requests for bid proposals.

Hard numbers will be made public at least a month before the first vote. A two-thirds majority is required at Town Meeting because of the request to borrow money, Cristello said. The vote at the polls will require a majority of “yes” votes.

“Everybody in the community knows how outdated and inadequate the current police station is,’’ Cristello said. “It looks like we are finally making good progress on a solution that will carry us into the future.”

The project, which has been estimated to cost between $10 million and $13 million, will have its challenges, Gates acknowledged, because it requires both renovation of a historic building and adding the necessities required by a modern law enforcement operation.

Gates said he is hopeful residents will approve the police station plan; as far as he knows, he said, there is no organized opposition.

Anyone who questions the need for a new facility can watch a 30-minute video tour of the station that is posted on the department’s website, he said.

In the film, boxes of waterlogged documents sit aside old courtroom chandeliers in an attic choked with wires that power the computer system. The dispatch area is jammed with excess equipment and chairs, and an evidence storage area has police patrol bicycles stacked in a holding cell near snow salt and janitorial supplies. The video is at www.middleboroughpolice.com.

Michele Morgan Bolton is at michelebolton@live.com.
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