You know a town has problems when the deputy fire chief is cooped up in a holding cell.

Scarborough’s Glen Deering spends his days under the low ceilings of the windowless chamber, but he’s not in any legal trouble – it’s his office.

With more equipment and staff added since 1989, when the public safety building was last renovated, the police and fire departments have grown out of their space again. “The whole building is bursting at the seams,” said Fire Chief Mike Thurlow.

The building, located on Route 1 near the Oak Hill intersection, the building has 13,250 square feet of space. More than 200 full- and part-time employees and volunteers use the building, which is about four times as many as when it was renovated.

According to Town Manager Ron Owens, a renovation and expansion of the public safety building has been an item on the capital budget for four years, but it keeps getting pushed back because of other needs in town. Now, a study has begun that will help the town and the two departments that occupy the building “try to get a handle on what needs to be done and how much it is going to cost,” Owens said.

When Owens presented his proposed budget at a council meeting on March 21, the capital improvements budget listed an initial estimate of $4.4 million for the potential project. Because it will cost more than $400,000, the project will have to go to referendum, when the town will vote on whether the work should be bonded.

The study is being conducted by Gawron Turgeon Architects and will be completed in May. Until then, it is hard to know what the next step will be, said Maura Ryan of Gawron Turgeon.

According to Thurlow, “The need is pretty obvious.”

The problems start from the entrance of the public safety building, where there is a lobby with no restroom access. According to Police Chief Robert Moulton, anyone who needs to wait in the lobby and use the bathroom must be allowed behind a locked door that leads into the rest of the building. That poses a safety risk when no one is available to wait in front of the bathroom.

The women’s restroom itself is also inadequate due to the fact that there are only five lockers, and, according to Moulton, the department is “well over that number of female employees.” There are a dozen in total.

The lockers themselves – for both men and women – are too small to hold the officers’ clothing and equipment. An additional storage space must be used to accommodate what cannot fit in the locker.

Storage space has taken on new meaning at the public safety building. The lunchroom has also become the closet for boxes upon boxes of reports – and also home to the breathalizer machine, which Moulton said is “not an ideal location for it.”

Just about every room in the station is also a storage space for filing cabinets or supplies. Even the hallway has become a storage area, not to mention an administrative office. Photocopiers, fax machines and the paper supply that goes with them no longer have a place inside a room, but sit outside in the hall instead.

“It’s a safety hazard,” Moulton said.

The open space under the stairwell has also been put to use as the new fingerprinting station. The stairs to the second floor lead up to a hallway that also serves as a photographing station for people getting IDs and weapons permits.

On the other side of the building, the hallway is also put to use, not for storage, but as a conference room. The location’s appearance and lack of privacy provide a “less-than-impressive” place to meet new developers and people who want to start new businesses in town, Moulton said. Next to the table is what Thurlow calls the “cubby hole,” which has walls made of filing cabinets, that is the shared office of two fire inspectors.

There are people “working in areas that weren’t designed to be work places, people doubled up and machines and filing cabinets where they shouldn’t be,” Moulton said. “It’s not a good situation.”

In the building study, the departments will also explore their use of space and the possibility of sharing administrative areas. Also, they will be sure to “look ahead” and consider the needs that the departments will have 10 and 20 years from now. Moulton does not believe that happened in the previous renovation.

“That met our needs at the moment,” he said. “It doesn’t take long to outgrow a building.”

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