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January 8, 2013

Former Gorham school seen as police/fire option

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

The Gorham Town Council will consider yet another plan Tuesday to create more space for the town's fire and police departments.

This one -- the third plan in less than six months -- calls for a $6.3 million renovation and expansion of the former Little Falls school into a public safety headquarters.

If councilors support the idea on Tuesday, voters could be asked to approve it in June.

Gorham's police and fire departments share a building on Main Street and since 1999, the town has acknowledged that they need more room.

Police officers say they have to store evidence in a locker room and they need more laboratory space.

Male and female firefighters share bathrooms and showers, with the women locking the doors while they use them.

In 2009, the town applied for a federal grant to move the fire station to the Little Falls school, but it didn't receive the money.

A year ago, the council asked architects to explore the option of moving the police station to Little Falls and leaving the fire station on Main Street.

In August, officials decided it would be better to keep the two departments in one building and opted to hold a referendum in November on spending $4 million to renovate the existing public safety building.

Then in September, the council decided to allow more time to explore its options and postponed the townwide vote until June.

On Tuesday the council will consider asking voters on June 11 if they want to spend $6.3 million to move both departments to Little Falls.

A committee formed last year to consider the various options found the Little Falls site preferable to the current building for several reasons, said Town Manager David Cole.

For one, less traffic comes in and out of the area so it would be easier for emergency vehicles to get on the road.

The public safety building now is on the same property as a school and recreational fields.

Also there's more room on the Little Falls property for an expansion if it's ever needed.

And, Cole said, a renovation of the existing building could cause inconvenient and costly disruptions to the police and fire departments during construction.

Police Chief Ronald Shepard and Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre said they support the latest plan.

Lefebvre said it's important to them to continue to be based in the same building.

He said it has helped the working relationship among members of the two departments and allowed them to better coordinate their response to emergencies.

"On major incidents, it allows both myself and the police chief, along with our deputies, to run a joint emergency operation center in one facility where we're all working together toward the common good of the community," said Lefebvre.

Although the departments have wanted more space for a while, Shepard said he's glad that the committee took the time to explore all of the options thoroughly.

"When we go to the citizens, we can say, 'This is the best plan,' " he said.

Cole said the fire department would keep a couple of trucks at the site on Main Street to respond to emergencies quickly in that part of town.

He said the Main Street building also could house the recreation programs and senior center, which are now at Little Falls.

The council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Gorham Municipal Center.

The council is also scheduled to vote on spending $175,000 to tear down the former White Rock School. 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:


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