City settles on $1.85 million for police station bond
VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen this past Tuesday settled on a $1.85 million bond amount to request from voters on Town Meeting Day to fund construction of a new North Main Street police station.
That amount includes $229,000 to buy the 0.75-acre former Vergennes Auto Sales parcel (a lot that is assessed by the city at $117,800), $21,000 to buy more land to the rear and side of the parcel, site work, construction costs for a roughly 6,000-square-foot building, and a $50,000 contingency fund.
Alderman Renny Perry, a member of the council-appointed committee studying the new station, told aldermen that the final number could be cheaper if aldermen decide to buy less of the additional land or if some or all of the contingency is not spent.
“There is some flexibility, depending on what the council decides about the land,” Perry said. “We may actually bond for less. We believe this figure is the maximum.”
Perry said the committee recommends buying at least 5,700 square feet of land to the rear to allow space for a future parking shed, but drew no firm conclusions about the remaining 9,700 square feet to the rear or additional frontage aldermen could buy.
“The council would have to decide how much of the land should be purchased,” he said.
The committee debated the contingency question, Perry said. City Manager Mel Hawley has argued that the project is a straightforward one-story building served by roadside municipal utilities, and dipping into a contingency is unlikely.
Perry said many projects operate with a 10 percent contingency, and the committee saw no reason to recommend that level to the full council.
“We didn’t think we needed a contingency of that size, but we did think we needed a contingency fund,” Perry said, adding that if unforeseen circumstances arose aldermen could turn to the city’s Water Tower Fund as a source of a “second contingency” fund.
Aldermen accepted the logic.
“I’m glad there’s a contingency,” said Alderman Joe Klopfenstein. “There’s some flexibility there.”
The council has been working with Middlebury design and construction company Bread Loaf Corp., but Mayor Michael Daniels said Chittenden County firm Neagley & Chase Construction Co. had just completed a police station in Colchester, and the council should at least contact them.
“I don’t think the committee’s work is done,” Hawley said.
Proposed is a 24-room, 5,940-square-foot station divided into “operations” and “logistics” sides. The operations side would include two rooms to interview suspects, two cells, a separate juvenile holding area, a booking area, a sally port for bringing suspects and others into and out of the building in a secure area, an armory and storage.
Plans call for that area to be securely divided from the logistics side, which has a separate interview room for victims and informants; men’s and women’s locker rooms; a patrol room that can accommodate 10 officers; offices for the chief, a sergeant and a detective; a fitness room; a training room; evidence storage and processing rooms; a lobby; an intake/administrative room; and records and information technology/phone system rooms.
Police Chief George Merkel has said that separating victims and witnesses from suspects would be a critical benefit to the new station, that the two evidence rooms would be vital in creating a “chain of custody” that would hold up in court, that the fitness room would help keep police on the job and injury-free, and that the station would meet the city’s needs on a permanent basis.
Some at a 2012 information meeting wondered if all of the rooms were necessary, and Alderman Peter Garon said he has continued to hear that message from some residents.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people with regard to the size of the building, with regard to it being excessive for Vergennes,” Garon said.
Garon said he would personally vote against the proposal, but that voters should have the chance to express their opinions.
He also noted that Hinesburg, which has roughly the same number of full- and part-time officers as Vergennes and serves a community that is larger than that of Vergennes — 4,396 to 2,582 residents, per the most recent U.S. Census data — is about to vote on a $1 million proposal for a 3,500-square-foot station.
Perry, however, responded it might be “really hard to compare” the two plans.
“We don’t know what’s put into that 3,500 square feet and why, and all communities’ needs are different,” Perry said. “I’ll certainly look into it, but I’m not sure you can necessarily compare the two buildings.”
On Wednesday morning, Perry emailed Garon and Hawley that he had reviewed the Hinesburg floor plan, which may be found at www.hinesburg.org/public-safety-building-project/police-station-floor-pl….
“The station is very inadequate. It doesn’t meet standards,” Perry wrote. “I’d like to gather some information so we can clarify the difference so people won’t be jumping to the wrong conclusions about our proposal.”
Hinesburg’s proposed station has roughly a dozen rooms, including only one holding cell and one interview room in the operations area, and also lacks the full separation of the operations and logistics areas that Merkel believes is vital — although the addition of one wall could apparently remedy that shortcoming. The Hinesburg plan does include a larger sally port.
The Hinesburg plan does not include some elements that residents at the informational meeting about the station questioned, including a fitness room and two locker rooms — it offers one changing room and one shower room, each self-contained. It also has an office for the chief and one supervisor, but not for a detective.
According to Hawley, the Hinesburg cost per square foot is $188, and the Vergennes cost per square foot is $194. Both those costs compare favorably to that for a proposed $1.9 million Williamstown fire and public safety building, which Hawley said is $209 per square foot.
In an email to Garon, Hawley said he believes Hinesburg’s proposal is the result of “cutting,” and said the city’s plan is more farsighted.
“I think our consideration for a police station looks ‘down the road’ 50 years, which in my opinion … it should,” Hawley wrote.
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