Glocester council votes to move forward on project to construct a new police station

Resident David Steere addresses the Glocester Town Council as a packed house looks on. NRI NOW photo by Dick Martin

GLOCESTER – After much discussion and input from a packed room at a recent meeting, the Town Council voted 4-1 to move forward in constructing a new police station on Adelaide Road. A new station is expected to cost the town approximately $17.3 if it is ultimately approved by voters. The cost is estimated to translate to an approximate 39 cents per $1,000 on property taxes, or about $135 on a home valued at $350,000.

“The hang-ups are with the actual cost,” Town Council President William Worthy told those in attendance. “That’s actually been kind of a moving target.”

Moving forward, Worthy said, will allow councilors pinpoint costs more closely once a building committee is formed and other necessary elements are in place.

“From what I’ve heard, nobody questions the police department needs something,” he said. “It’s how we get to the solid number. What is that going to look like?”

“Obviously, this is the main event tonight,” said Council Vice President Stephen Arnold in reference to the crowd. “Speaking for myself and the rest of the council, we’ve all wrestled with this. The numbers we’re working with are ‘not to exceed numbers.’ So, to go a dollar over, it’s irrelevant. We have to use those numbers as we make those decisions.”

Arnold said the difficult part in deliberations was to the narrow down difference in cost between constructing a new building and renovating the old one at the current location on Chopmist Hill Road. Architects have estimated it would cost approximately $1.5 million more to construct a new building for police, but proponents say a new building would be a better investment in the future. The old building, they note, is limited as to what can be done there and would have no room for any further improvements after renovation.

“Every dollar matters,” Arnold said. “It’s still the taxpayer’s money.”

If he were given the choice as an independent businessman, Arnold said he would have no problem choosing new construction. Since the cost is being borne by taxpayers, he said it was a tougher decision. But, he added, “Something needs to happen.”

“What’s the better investment?” Arnold said. “It comes down to concrete numbers. The difference between a new and a remodel is six cents per $1,000. It’s a better investment to start over.”

The council, he added, needs to put something on a referendum for approval that the community can support. Once final numbers are in, the town is expect to have a special referendum to decide the issue, most likely during the General Election this November.

“I think starting over is the most responsible thing we can put on the ballot, and the voters will choose what they choose,” said Arnold.

He urged voters to take a tour of the current facility. Then, he said, they will understand why a new station is the best decision.

Councilor Walter Steere agreed, adding that there are other considerations to take into account, including $5.3 million in grant money at risk if the project is rejected by voters.

“This is a one time opportunity, where the town and our grant writers have worked extremely hard to bring in over $5 million dollars in grant money to help offset the cost to taxpayers,” said Steere. “I’ve heard many people say you’ll never get any money from the state. Guess what? The people who work here, they did. That is extremely important. In my opinion, if we don’t do something, and we lose that money, we will never see grant money again here in Glocester.”

Steere added that Glocester got the most state grant money because the town was ready to do something to meet the needs of the community and the police department. Looking at the upcoming budget, he said, there may actually be a decrease in taxes in the next fiscal year. Additionally, some bonds for previous capital projects will be paid off in the next few years, also lessening the tax burden. If the town waits, and is forced to revisit the project, it will cost much more, and there may not be any grants to help, he said.

“People need to understand what is being done, what the cost will be, and why it is so important,” said Steere. “This is not a ‘nice to have’ situation. It is a ‘need to have situation.’ I think it would be irresponsible if we looked at the short term. What we can’t do is do nothing.”

People he has spoken with, he said, agreed that new construction is the way to go.

The only objection to a new station was Councilor Cheryl Greathouse, who voted against the motion to move forward to construct a new building. She said she has also given a great deal of thought to the decision.

“My suggestion is we go for a smaller addition and we meet the needs of our police department so that they have more space, utilizing the $5.3 million dollars we have coming to us,” she said.

Her biggest concern, she added, is people she has spoken with who plan to reject the project.

“Something is better than nothing,” she said. “This is a time when we really don’t know what the future holds for this country, financially.”

“Every person up here is concerned about the impact on the taxpayer,” said Steere. “But there is also concern about the safety of the town.”

Councilor Jonathan Burlingame said he is concerned about taxes as well, but the needs of the town and the police department are important. When he asked those in attendance if they would weigh in, a stream of residents approached the microphone, including longtime resident Roger Knight, who said he had worked on commercial construction in the past. He said he has taken the opportunity to tour the police department, and that new construction is the best idea. The present building, he said, is basically a disaster area, partly due to flooding and poor drainage.

“We need to look to the future,” he said.

The area on Adelaide Road, he explained, gives room for expansion, and a better location in town.

“We have the brains here and the resources here to do this in a sensible way,” he warned. “Do not put a band aid on an old building. Sell the building. Repurpose it… whatever you want after we relocate. We need a new building.”

Police Chief Joseph DelPrete described the current station as less than adequate, with closets being utilized as rooms, mold present, inadequate heating and air conditioning, and an overall lack of room for police business in general, including safety monitors for local schools.

Emergency Management Director Gerry Mosca explained that the grants have time limits. The $490,000 COPS grant must be allocated by the end of this year, while the $1 million FEMA grant has a 2.5 year limit, and the recently awarded ARPA grant of $3.5 million must be earmarked by 2026. Lowering costs for additions or rejecting improvements or new construction could lessen or remove grant money. The new station is expected to include an emergency management center for northern Rhode Island.

“Once that money goes away, it’s gone,” warned Mosca.

“So, on a renovation, part of that money might not be there?” asked Worthy.

“Depending on the cost of the renovation, right,” responded Mosca.

Mosca explained that one of the reasons the town received the $3.5 million grant was because of the inclusion of the emergency management center. In a major disaster, representatives and emergency personnel from surrounding towns would locate at the new Glocester police headquarters to help direct and receive aid, a huge benefit, he said, not just to Glocester but surrounding towns as well. Mosca explained that combining forces with other towns will help in getting needed state and federal aid during a crisis.

When resident David Steere asked if the council had accurate estimates for materials and other expenses, councilors said that will be more accurately determined once a building committee and other essentials are in place, including final decisions on the building itself.

“My concern is, are you going to have enough money?” asked resident Steere.

Resident Daniel Desautel warned that final costs can be hard to determine, based on his own experience in construction. He also questioned the ability to find qualified trades people to do the job properly.

After more than two hours of discussion by both residents and councilors, it was time to vote.

“I think as a council we have to try to make the best decision for this community into the future,” said Worthy. “No one wants higher taxes. There is not one of us who wouldn’t do anything for this community. I have people come into my shop, and they are on fixed incomes. They say, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right. Don’t screw it up.’ They are talking about building a new facility.”

“We need to present something the voters will pass,” Burlingame said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Burlingame added the council has to ensure that the proper information is provided to taxpayers. Information and comments on Facebook, for example, have often been misleading and/or incorrect. To that end, the council agreed that information and facts, will be made public through a variety of venues, including the town’s website, to ensure there is no more misinformation being passed along.

The council agreed to request applications for a building committee immediately in hopes of possibly appointing members by their next meeting to get the project moving forward. The council also approved moving forward with Saccoccio Architects creating the next phase of designs for the new building.

People interested in being on the building committee can fill out an application on the Glocester town website.

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