GORHAM – Gorham town councilors in January will weigh whether to move ahead with a committee’s recommendation for a $6.2 million public safety complex in Little Falls.

Under the recommendation of the Gorham Public Safety Committee, the former Little Falls School on Acorn Street would be renovated and expanded, allowing the facility to house both the police and fire departments. The departments now share cramped space in the Public Safety Building at 270 Main St.

A proposal could go to voters in a June referendum.

If the council approves sending a measure to voters, a public hearing on a proposal would be required by April at the latest.

The committee studying public safety needs selected the plan from seven alternatives it considered. Owens McCullough, a Gorham resident on the study committee, presented its recommendation to the council in a workshop on Tuesday.

“The first and primary need,” McCullough said, “is to meet the public safety needs for the next 25 years.”

Town Councilor John Pressey, who served on the Gorham Public Safety Committee, called the Little Falls option ideal and one that allows for expansion. “The money is a big question,” Pressey said.

Little Falls School sits on a 6.5-acre site. The committee’s recommended plan calls for a 34,435-square-foot facility, including 14,310 square feet to be renovated, with new construction adding 20,125 square feet. The Public Safety Building on Main Street contains 18,715 square feet.

“There’s some overall common problems,” Owens told councilors about issues now facing both fire and police departments.

A printed report identified the lack of separate restrooms and showers for men and women, inadequate storage, lack of room for offices, shortage of training and meeting space, inadequate locker rooms, no proper decontamination area for chemical and biological hazards, and need for a secure area for arrest bookings.

“Evidence storage is all over the map,” Owens said.

A move to Little Falls would allow reuse of the office space in the Public Safety Building for a potential community center.

“That building (270 Main St.) is in pretty good condition for reuse,” McCullough said.

Town Manager David Cole said all of the first floor and half of the second story would be available for other use.

The former Little Falls School now houses a senior center along with the Gorham Recreation Department’s before- and after-school program for kindergarten children. Those activities would have to be relocated, if the new public safety facility were built at Little Falls.

Under the proposal, a fire engine and a ladder truck would continue to use the bays at the Main Street site and the student live-in firefighters would remain berthed in second-floor space on Main Street.

The proposed facility at Little Falls would include six, 60-foot bays for fire department vehicles.

The fire department would relocate its full-time staff to the new facility, along with its heavy rescue truck, and two ambulances.

“The level of care for patients is not going to change,” Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre told councilors.

The committee report said relocating headquarters would not impact police street patrols handling responses to calls.

Other alternative plans the committee reviewed included demolishing Little Falls School to build an $8 million fire station and leave police at 270 Main St.; demolishing the school to make way for a $6.7 million combined fire and police facility at Little Falls; and a $5.8 million plan that would renovate and expand the two-story building at 270 Main St. for both fire and police departments.

The renovation option for the existing Public Safety Building was the committee’s second choice, but, McCullough said, it did not address what to do with the Little Falls building, which needs extensive repairs.

“This is a really good look at public safety needs,” Town Councilor Matthew Robinson said about the committee’s report.

The Gorham and Windham fire departments now share an aging station in South Windham, a short distance across the bridge from Little Falls. A new Gorham central fire station in Little Falls would eliminate an estimated future cost of up to $2 million to replace the shared South Windham station.

It’s unclear now how Windham would be involved, if Gorham relocated its Central Station to Little Falls. “We’d have to discuss with Windham what their interest is” to see how they want to participate, Cole said following Tuesday’s workshop.

Gorham High School students now board and exit buses at this door. To enhance security, the principal’s office at the Morrill Avenue entrance would be moved to this end of the school, where a new main entrance would be located under a proposed renovation-expansion project.    

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