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The backside of the Turner House Living Center for Veterans on Simonds Road. On Monday, the Board of Selectmen agreed to enter into an option to purchase the site for a new police station.

Williamstown Moves to Build Police Station on Simonds Road

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town took its first steps toward moving its police station and a non-profit recreation center received a season alcohol licence.
 
Also, Williams College announced plans to install a 6 foot-by-12 foot box culvert under downtown. (Story to come)
 
Other than that, it was a quiet night Monday at Town Hall. 
 
The twice-monthly meeting of the Board of Selectmen had a full agenda on the first Monday after last week's annual town meeting.
 
As has often been the case in recent years at Town Hall, a big part of the agenda centered on construction.
 
In the case of the town, it is a planned renovation and addition to the Turner House veterans home on Simonds Road, which the board agreed on Monday to sign an option to purchase for up to $300,000.
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch and Chairman Andrew Hogeland explained that the town wants to convert the residence into a replacement for the Williamstown Police Department's current inefficient, outdated and cramped facility in Town Hall.
 
And in its capacity as the town's alcohol licensing authority, the Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to grant Sand Springs Recreation Center a seasonal license to serve after hearing how the non-profit had addressed the concerns of a resident who questioned the application at the board's May 8 meeting.
 
Hoch and the Selectmen have for months been discussing the potential acquisition of real property in executive session as allowed under the commonwealth's Open Meeting Law.
 
On Monday, it confirmed a rumor that had been circulating around town for just as many months: that the town has set its sights on the site being vacated by Turner House.
 
Hogeland reviewed some of the history, including the town's efforts through its Public Safety Building Study Committee to find a site that would work for a facility to house both the police and fire departments.
 
"We could not find a site that is both suitable and available," said Hogeland, who served on that committee. "A year ago, the Public Safety Building Study Committee and the Board of Selectmen decided to suspend that search. At about the same time, the Turner House announced it was closing."
 
The town asked the architect who had done work for the the public safety building panel to assess the prospects for the Turner House site, 825 Simonds Road, an 18,295 square foot parcel that includes a 5,589 square-foot building (including both stories plus the basement).
 
The town got estimates of $6.2 million to tear down the existing structure and $4.7 million to retrofit the existing building and build a two-story, 5,706 square-foot addition in the back.
 
"The addition would house essential functions — those that require a building to be seismic proof, like dispatch and some of those things," Hoch said.
 
It also would include a sally port — something sorely lacking from the current facility — where detainees could be taken securely from a police cruiser into the building for processing and incarceration.
 
"We have been able to figure out that this set of essential services plus the conversion of the old building will meet all of the department's needs," Hoch said.
 
"The price is really interesting to note. That savings [of $1.5 million] moves us into a place that gives us good flexibility putting together a financial package that should have minimal impact on taxation."
 
Hoch noted that the town has $1.6 million in its stabilization fund. It also already has budgeted — from prior town meetings — $270,000 for architectural services related to a new police station. And the town is expecting to realize financial benefit from its new solar installation on the capped landfill when it comes online, hopefully in the current calendar year.
 
Hoch said he hopes to be able to ask the town for permission to purchase the property and borrow the construction funds at a special town meeting later this year.
 
"That sets us up for bidding in January and construction next year," he said.
 
Hogeland pointed out that acquiring the Turner House site has some hidden benefits for the town: One, it allows the town to use property not currently on the tax roll, since Turner House is a non-profit. Two, the $300,000 in taxpayer dollars used to purchase the site will benefit veterans; although Turner House is suspending its temporary housing model at the site, the non-profit still exists for the purpose of serving vets.
 
Sand Springs Pool
 
The director of the Sand Springs Recreation Center was back before the board in a continuation from the public hearing it started on May 8.
 
Geraldine Shen said she had fruitful conversations with James Montepare, the owner of several homes adjacent to the Sand Springs property and reachable only by a private road with deeded access through the Sand Springs site.
 
Shen explained that it is the non-profit board's intention that "99 percent" of an alcohol business at the facility would be during its regular operating hours, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 11 to 8 depending on the day. The board plans to have a a few special events that could run as late as 10 and has provided Montepare with a list of those dates.
 
Montepare again told the board that he supports Sand Springs and hopes to see the facility achieve the economic sustainability that the board hopes to achieve by creating new revenue streams.
 
But he repeated that while he trusted Shen, he could not be sure that she will always be in charge and that a new director will not make full use of the seasonal alcohol license.
 
In the end, the board relied on the fact that the recreation facility had, in the past, been a responsible holder of single-day alcohol licenses for special events, and, as Selectman Hugh Daley put it, the town could "trust but verify."
 
"We're going to believe that they will alert you to [special events]," Daley said. "If they don't do that, shame on them, and it might make it harder for them to get the single day licenses in the future."
 
The board voted 4-0 to approve the seasonal license. Selectwoman Jane Patton, who serves on the Sand Springs board of directors, recused herself from the hearing.

Other than that, it was a quiet night Monday at Town Hall.


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