January 9, 2013

Gorham public safety center up to voters

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

GORHAM — Gorham residents will decide in June whether to spend $6.3 million to renovate the former Little Falls school into a new public safety headquarters, as long as the Town Council doesn't change its mind.

Map: Little Falls School site

The council voted Tuesday night to hold a referendum June 11 on spending money for the renovation, expansion or replacement of the former school.

The town has considered several options for addressing a lack of space for the police and fire departments, currently based in a building on Main Street.

Over the course of the last three years, the council has variously endorsed a plan to renovate the Little Falls building into a fire station, another plan to move the police station there instead and, most recently, a renovation of the existing public safety building.

The council in August voted to hold a referendum on spending $4 million to renovate the Main Street building and keep the departments there. Since then, a building committee was formed and has more thoroughly explored options for creating more space for the police and fire departments. Last month it recommended renovating Little Falls into a new joint headquarters.

The council voted, 4-2, Tuesday to support the recommendation, with councilors Philip Gagnon and Suzanne Phillips opposed.

Councilors John Pressey, Michael Phinney, Sherrie Benner and Shonn Moulton voted in favor of the referendum. Councilor Matthew Robinson was not at the meeting.

Gagnon said that, although he believes the departments would benefit from moving into a new building at Little Falls, he isn't convinced "that it benefited the community."

Phillips said she didn't "feel comfortable asking taxpayers to foot the bill," considering the other financial strains on them.

Other councilors, however, said there are benefits to building, given the current economy, including lower interest rates for borrowing money and lower construction costs.

"It's up to voters to decide if now is the time they can afford it," Phinney said.

In November, when the council was still supporting a renovation of the existing public safety building on Main Street, voters approved spending $500,000 on improvements to the Little Falls school, which now houses recreation programs and a senior center.

Town Manager David Cole said it would be up to the council whether to do anything with that money, but it probably won't be spent before the referendum in June.

Part of the proposed plan for moving public safety to Little Falls is to move the recreation and senior programs into the Main Street building, where there would also be a fire department substation with two trucks.

Also at the meeting Tuesday, the council voted, 6-0, to spend up to $175,000 to tear down the former White Rock School on North Gorham Road.

Councilors said the building, which closed in 2011 when the new Great Falls Elementary School opened, has structural problems and is a liability. Cole said the demolition could happen this winter.
 

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at
lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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