WATERVILLE — The majority of city councilors say they likely will vote tonight against buying the Morning Sentinel building and turning it into a police station.

Instead, they will approve building a new station at Head of Falls, but three councilors said they want to see cost figures and building layout before they give final approval to that project.

Tonight’s meeting will be at 7 in the council chambers at The Center.

Four of seven councilors said Monday they plan to vote against buying the Morning Sentinel building at 31 Front St., but Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said he will vote to buy the Sentinel building “strictly because it’ll save the taxpayers a good deal of money — between $500,000 to $1 million.”

“There are two things that they should be considering,” he said of councilors. “One is, the majority of opinion in the community is not to build at Head of Falls. The other thing is, you don’t have to be an engineer or an architect; all it takes is common sense to realize a practically new building doesn’t cost as much to renovate as it does to build a new building.”

The city is being offered the Sentinel building for $550,000. The council initially approved spending $2.5 million for a police station, but the city’s architect, Port City Architecture, and construction manager, Wright-Ryan Construction, Inc., developed cost estimates ranging from $3 million to $3.4 million. Those estimates were given to the council last week.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, said Monday he leans toward building at Head of Falls.

“The only issue I’ve got is, the price keeps going up,” O’Donnell said. “I’m pretty much at my limit at $2.5 million and now they’ve gone up to $3.4 million.”

O’Donnell said he will probably move to ask councilors to vote to reduce the cost for building new unless the city can come up with another way to do the project.

“My view is, it’s too much money in this economy, and I might suggest we ask the citizens to begin a petition drive to put it to referendum,” O’Donnell said.

Councilor George Myers Jr., D-Ward 2, changed his position of initially favoring buying and renovating the 15-year-old Sentinel building, which is on The Common across the street from City Hall and the current police station. Myers led the charge several weeks ago to explore more detailed cost estimates of renovating versus building new.

Myers said Monday that he will vote to build at Head of Falls, “pending changes to the financial picture.”

He said Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, made an important point at last week’s council meeting, noting that Lewiston is ahead of Bangor in a race to get passenger rail service to their communities.

“That means Waterville is set aside on rail services,” Myers said.

At last week’s meeting, Jill Hodsdon, of A.E. Hodsdon Engineers, of Waterville, argued that passenger rail service will be coming to Waterville and building a police station at Head of Falls is not appropriate.

Winslow said Monday that residents do not want to lose the approximate $33,000 in annual taxes the city would lose if the Sentinel building were sold to the city for a police station. She said she supports building at Head of Falls but will wait to see what the costs and structure of the building will look like before approving the final plan.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said there should be no surprise as to how she will vote: she will support building at Head of Falls, as she has from the beginning. She also does not want the city to lose annual taxes from the Sentinel building, she said.

“I think building new, in the long run, will save the taxpayers money,” Rancourt-Thomas said.

As of early evening, councilors Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, and Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, had not responded to requests for comment.

City Manager Michael Roy said city officials will be happy with whatever decision the council makes, as it will allow the project to move forward before winter sets in. He estimated the city has spent about $20,000 on exploring the difference in cost and benefits to building a new police station versus retrofitting the Sentinel building.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]