Bristol puts a hold on plan to move police

BRISTOL — Bristol police shouldn’t start measuring their future office space in Howden Hall just yet.
Bristol selectboard members at a Monday meeting said they are hopeful that offices for the Bristol Police Department can remain in their current location at 6 South St. rather than move to Howden Hall. But selectmen cautioned that they are still negotiating a lease with the owners of the property.
Bristol town offices and police late last year moved out of basement offices in Holley Hall and into temporary offices on South Street while Holley Hall underwent major renovations. While town offices will move back into Holley Hall, there were no plans to make space for the police, and last summer it was decided the department could save money by taking space in Howden Hall a block away.
The police cannot afford to pay commercial rent, selectmen said, and Howden Hall, since it is town property, would accommodate the police offices at a significantly lower cost than commercial space.
Then, selectmen this month began looking into the option of having police stay put after concerned members of the Bristol Historical Society appealed to them to change their decision to have police take over the west wing and basement of Howden Hall.
At a Sept. 13 meeting, Town Administrator Bill Bryant and members of the selectboard made it clear that the use of Howden Hall was a last-ditch effort, and they were open to other options. They decided to pursue the rental of a portion of the South Street space, and are discussing a price with the owners, Dave and Sheila Henderson. Because the landlords are “community-minded people,” as Selectboard Chairman Alan Huizenga said, they are willing to take a hit and charge the police a rate that falls below market price.
Even with a reduced price, Bryant warned, the police budget will not be able to cover the cost of rent.
“We will probably end up being a couple thousand over the $8,000 budgeted for rent,” he said. He explained that half of that amount has already been  eaten by the rent the police are currently paying for the space for use through December, leaving only roughly $4,000 to pay for rent through June, plus utilities.
Though the selectboard set a Nov. 1 goal for its final decision on future police accommodations, that was only a goal.
“The landlord also has to sign a lease,” Bryant emphasized. “We can’t speak for them. They’ve been very gracious in working with us so far, but we can’t speak on their behalf.”
Still, Selectwoman Sharon Compagna is hopeful that the police will stay where they are.
“It’s exciting to possibly have another alternative that we didn’t think we had, just thanks to the generosity of the Hendersons,” she said.
Historical society members Gerald Heffernan and George Smith asked selectmen for assurance that Howden Hall would not be used now or in the future to house police offices, but Bryant, in turn, asked for their patience.
“We’re working diligently on trying not to be there,” he said. “And we wouldn’t be doing that if you guys hadn’t raised your voice, so there’s something to be thankful for, but we need some patience while we finish working through this.”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected]

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