The proposed $3 million police station would be buit on the corner of Route 7 and North Street, next to Town Hall and the Williams Inn.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Town meeting will be asked to begin the process of building a $3 million police station, an effort that's been arrested several times in the past.
The draft article for inclusion on the town meeting warrant asks voters to appropriate $160,000 — the same amount approved last year — toward design and authorize the town to begin negotiations to acquire from Williams College the property on the corner next to Town Hall.
The conditions of the police station have been documented a number of times but Town Manager Peter Fohlin offered the Selectmen and viewing audience another look at the building's problems.
The station is on the north side of Town Hall, a former Williams fraternity house, and is ill-equipped for modern-day police use. The long narrow corridor into the station puts perpetrators, victims, witnesses and the people looking for directions all in the same space, often people who should not even be seeing each other, said Fohlin.
The police chief's administrative assistant is across the building from him in a converted closet. Those headed for the lockup have to negotiate a set of steep stairs to the basement. The cells are old and only contain toilets; prisoners have to be escorted to a sink to wash up. Fohlin told of how prisoners who have been pepper sprayed have resorted to toilet water to rinse despite officers best efforts to help them clean up because there is no other option.
Trying to convey the conditions of the station to the average taxpayer has been problematic because they rarely need to go to the station, or venture beyond the dispatcher.
"One of the difficulties of talking about a new police department is police don't get a chance to meet their customers," he said, referring to the citizens in the audience and at home. "The people the police meet is the guy who washes his face in the toilet bowl."
Fohlin said he took Williams President Adam Falk for a whirlwind tour last week and he only had two things to say: "Wow" and "I always knew you needed a police station and now I know why."
Basic plans for the 8,736 square foot structure were devised by Police Chief Kyle Johnson and Public Works Director Timothy Kaiser. The one-story structure with full basement would have a lobby for the public and a sallyport — an enclosed area on the side with garage doors at each end — for bringing suspects into the booking and holding areas. The chief and his assistant would have offices next to each other and the basement would be accessed by an elevator and a staircase.
The estimated cost for the station, architecture and design, site work and contingencies came to $2.97 million. Another $224,000 is added in for renovations to Town Hall, including enlarging the selectmen's meeting room to its original size. Fohlin thought moving the busy inspection services to the first floor in the old station was a good idea, particularly because its dedicated entrance would accommodate contractors coming in from muddy sites.
The station was put off five or six years ago when the Mount Greylock Regional High School project stalled, and again a few years ago when the Milne Public Library postponed its reconstruction plans because Fohlin said it would be more economical to bond all capital projects at the same time.
With Mount Greylock again seeking a school project, and a police station again being discussed, Fohlin said the time seemed right to re-engage.
Selectman Tom Costley was apprehensive about the use of a the open plot of land, based on the concern over open space.
"In my experience, people are going to have strong feelings about this," he said, asking if there should be public meetings before going to town meeting and quizzed Fohlin about other options. "I don't want the article to fail because of this site."
The town manager said the former Agway location on Main Street is a prime site, which is the very reason he recommended against using.
"It's is such a prime piece of commercial property I would not like to see it taken off the tax rolls," he said. "I looked at it 10 years ago, it's almost too good to be wasted on a police station."
Chairman David Rempell said there weren't many options and noted that buildings take up open space — there's no getting around that. He concurred that there needed to be deliberation, but added, "I'm thrilled that this is before us now as a draft article for this town meeting so we can move forward ... this should have been done years ago."
Fohlin said the town will make that determination at town meeting. "We've had a bar in the basement of the police station for 50-51 years," he said. "Another year won't kill us."
While voters will be asked to seek the corner lot from Williams, they also will be asked to give the college Stetson Court. The dead-end street is surrounded by college property and its widening several years ago required expanding onto college land. Rather than getting easements, Fohlin said it was simpler to turn the street and its maintenance over to the college.
In other business, the board:
• Approved an all-alcoholic license for the one-day event, a "Spring Fling," for Williamstown Community Preschool, on April 5 from 7:30-10:30 p.m. and the annual licenses (alcohol, victualler and music) for the Taconic Golf Club.
• Approved the first annual PopCares 5K Road race to benefit Northern Berkshire cancer patients on May 11.
• Reappointed K. Elaine Neely and Charles Schlesinger to the Hoosac Water Quality District in terms to expier in March 2016.
• Signed the release of the deed restriction on the old youth center approved at a special town meeting two weeks ago that limited its use to a boys club. Fohlin noted the town sold the building for a nominal fee in 1966 with no right of reversion. While town counsel felt lifting the restriction unnecessary under state law, Fohlin said the insurance title company used by the presumed buyers "wanted this restriction removed so there would never ever be any qustion."
• Signed the statement of interest for Mount Greylock Regional School District to be considered by the state School Building Authority this year. The statement required the approval and signing of both the Williamstown and Lanesborough selectmen and the chairman of the School Committee. Carolyn Greene, chairman of the School Committee, brought the paperwork on Monday night to both boards for signing.