Vergennes to review smaller police station proposal

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday will look at a proposal for a smaller new North Main Street police station, and City Manager Mel Hawley said this week that they could act quickly to schedule another vote on the issue.
City residents on Town Meeting Day rejected a $1.85 million bond to pay for a 5,940-square-foot station on the 0.75-acre former Vergennes Auto Sales parcel by a slim margin, 302-292.
Hawley, Police Chief George Merkel and a Bread Loaf Corp. architect have since then reworked the floor plan to come up with a building that would have a 4,611-square-foot footprint. That plan will be on the table on Tuesday at 7 p.m. when the council meets at the city fire station.
That preliminary proposal, which Hawley said Vergennes Mayor Bill Benton has seen and aldermen will receive in their pre-meeting packets, eliminates from the first proposal a fitness room, a drive-in evidence garage, offices for the department’s sergeant and detective, and an intake/dispatch room.
Hawley said aldermen could also evaluate whether a smaller building footprint would mean the city would not have to purchase adjacent land, thus saving more money. He also noted a smaller structure would have lower ongoing energy and maintenance costs.
Hawley did not on Wednesday have a construction cost estimate for the smaller building, but said Bread Loaf had promised him a new estimate by Friday that would be available at the Tuesday meeting. The first building was estimated at close to $200 per square foot, and the new draft proposal is 1,329 square feet smaller.
Hawley also said aldermen might have to move quickly on Tuesday. Vergennes Auto Sales property owner Bruce Barry does not want to wait indefinitely for the city’s next step.
“Bruce Barry has given me a fair amount of freedom to talk about this deal,” he said. “He will not hold this property until a March (2014) vote, but he wanted to hear back from me next Wednesday.”
If the $1.85 million bond had passed on March 5, a new building could have been finished by the end of the year, according to Bread Loaf officials. Hawley said a new vote could probably not be held until May, meaning while construction could start this year if residents backed a new plan, occupancy would be unlikely until 2014.
“The schedule was tight given March approval,” he said.
Vergennes officials sought feedback about the defeat after the tight March 5 vote. Hawley said they have received responses.
“The reasons varied,” he said, “but we heard a number of people say that the building was larger than it needed to be and they wanted to see a Plan B.”
Hawley said he would be at least “hopeful” that a more modest station would win support.
“I’m hearing some people say it won’t change the result,” he said. “I really think there are some people that when they went to the polls they just felt that it (the first station proposal) was more than we needed, and they based their vote on that reason.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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