This front view of Scarborough’s proposed public safety building shows Route 1 to the left and the town hall to the right. Courtesy town of Scarborough and Context Architecture

SCARBOROUGH — Some problems at the town’s crowded and outdated public safety building developed over time, as responsibilities of the Police and Fire & Rescue departments evolved and increased.

Photocopiers, bookcases and storage boxes line hallways of the flat-roofed, brick building on Route 1. Patrol officers conduct alcohol breath tests in a lunch room. A former jail cell is now a deputy fire chief’s office. The walls of the fire inspector’s office are fashioned from filing cabinets lined up and topped with sheet rock.

Other problems were apparent shortly after the building was completed in 1989. That’s when the roof started to leak above the police chief’s office. Repeated attempts to fix it failed, so Chief Robbie Moulton created an indoor gutter system that diverts rain into a plastic bucket behind his desk. Dispatchers monitor and empty the bucket as needed during overnight storms.

“On a recent night when there was a storm, I collected 7 gallons of water,” said Moulton, who’s been police chief since 1999.

In a Nov. 7 referendum, town voters will consider a $19.5 million bond issue to construct a new public safety building on the other side of Route 1, beside Town Hall. Moulton and Fire Chief Mike Thurlow will host an open house Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so residents can see for themselves exactly what’s wrong with the existing building.

The $21.5 million proposal culminates nearly a year of planning and answers a need that was first identified in 2007, before an economic recession hit and school building projects took priority. Town officials plan to cover the full cost of the new building with $625,000 in reserved funds and an estimated $1.4 million from the future sale of the existing building.

“This project has been on hold for 10 years and the need has only increased,” Moulton said.

LONG-STANDING DEFICIENCIES, MODERN NEEDS

The referendum would address widespread and long-standing deficiencies in the 17,000-square-foot building, including its location near the busy Oak Hill intersection with Gorham Road (Route 114) and Black Point Road (Route 207).

“Traffic stopped at the intersection regularly backs up beyond our driveway,” Thurlow said. “Drivers can’t yield to fire trucks leaving the station even if they wanted to.”

This rear view of Scarborough’s proposed public safety building shows the drive-through fire truck bays. Courtesy town of Scarborough and Context Architecture

Designed by Context Architecture of Boston, the proposed 53,000-square-foot gable-roofed building would accommodate the modern and diverse needs of 60 full-time police employees and 31 full-time fire and rescue employees today, and allow for anticipated community and staffing growth through 2041, the chiefs said. Programs that would get additional space include addiction support, video forensics, human trafficking, evidence processing and live-in fire and rescue student interns.

The main visitor entrance would be off an expanded municipal parking lot in front of Town Hall. Covered police cruiser parking and four drive-thru fire truck bays would be at a lower level on the other side of the masonry building. A new access road would be built from the rear of the proposed building to Sawyer Road, which would allow emergency vehicles to enter Route 1 more safely and efficiently.

Moulton and Thurlow have been promoting the proposal at meetings with neighborhood and civic groups, where the reception has been largely positive, they said.

TAXPAYER GROUP’S CONCERNS

The Concerned Taxpayers of Scarborough on Facebook and the Look Out Scarborough internet blog have raised concerns about the longterm cost of borrowing $19.5 million to replace a 28-year-old building.

“It is abundantly clear that the current building is too small and past its prime,” according to a blog post. “There’s also no doubt that our police and fire personnel deserve a better facility. But the tough part is the financial justification of a new building. No matter how you slice it, there’s going to be a major increase in our tax bills if this building is approved.”

The blog noted that the project actually would cost $29.4 million, paid off over 30 years.

In developing the public safety building proposal, a planning committee determined that the current site wasn’t large enough for a full renovation and expansion, and it would still have access issues related to its location at the Oak Hill intersection.

The committee also concluded that separating police and fire headquarters would reduce or eliminate many of the benefits and savings that result from having the two services in the same building.

If voters approve the proposal, it would take several months to complete the building’s design and hire a builder, Thurlow said. Construction would take about 18 months, starting sometime next summer and finishing in late 2019 or early 2020.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

[email protected]