TOPSHAM — With the ranks of women growing to the point that the locker room needs to expand, the town is looking to double the space used by the Police Department’s female officers.

It’s what Chief Chris Lewis calls “a great problem to have.”

Topsham now has three full-timers and one part-time female officer among its 16-member roster – down from five female members last year – but still finds “the current locker room lacks the space that they need,” Lewis said. “If we were to hire one more female officer it would be at full capacity, and not much room for them to be able to comfortably change and put on their equipment.”

Topsham Police Chief Chris Lewis, at left, and Officer Courtney Everett stand in the department’s approximately 70-square-foot women’s locker room. The town plans to expand that room and add three lockers. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Space in the shoebox-shaped room can already be tight at times; the door swings into the space where one locker’s user would be standing.

Selectmen were due Jan. 16 to hire Lajoie Brothers to expand the women’s space, but inclement weather forced the meeting to be postponed to Feb. 6.

Residents last May approved budgeting $20,000 for the project, but the sole bid received last November was $27,757 and subsequently denied, according to Interim Town Manager Derek Scrapchansky.

Lajoie submitted a $15,698 bid, compared with Maine Highlands Contracting at $39,757. Lajoie recently completed a trim and fascia project on the Topsham Municipal Building, and is due to complete the locker room project by March 15.

The town will purchase lockers and other related equipment not included in the project bid from a different vendor, with costs to be kept within the appropriated budget amount, Scrapchansky said. Lockers cost about $1,100 each, Lewis said.

The women’s locker room has five lockers and about 70 square feet of open space; the men’s room has 15 lockers and about 165 square feet of open space, according to Scrapchansky. The women’s area will expand into an interview room, with a doorway created in the wall between the two, and the expanded space enclosed. The interview room’s equipment will be relocated to the booking room.

“That room will be enclosed and redesigned,” Lewis said. The new configuration will include eight lockers and about 130 square feet of space.

“Depending on the configuration of lockers, more lockers are possible,” Scrapchansky said. “This project is important to us as we look to the future. Law enforcement, like many other occupations, has become stronger with greater diversity and we welcome it. We will also continue to assess areas that may impact job performance as we strive to increase our standard of service to the Topsham community.”

Courtney Everett, who joined the department last January, said she will be pleased to have the additional space. The 22-year-old went into the police field knowing it was a male-dominated profession, “but (with) there being other females, that helps build your confidence,” she said.

“It was good” to have other women there when she joined, Everett added, particularly since two of them were her field training officers.

John Rogers, director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, began tracking the gender of the state’s police officers in 2017. He found by the end of 2018 – he is still tallying last year’s numbers – Maine had 256 full-time female law enforcement officers (8.82% of the state’s total), and 50 part-time female law officers (6.42%). Maine also had 232 female corrections officers (15.55%).

One-eighth of the country’s full-time female law enforcement officers are female, Rogers reported last year.

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