Williams College Donates $400K Toward Town's New Police Station
With college Assistant to the President for Community and Government Affairs James Kolesar in the audience, Town Manager Jason Hoch told the Select Board on Monday that the school's gift will make it easier to achieve his goal of renovating and expanding the former Turner House on Simonds Road (Route 7) without adding to the town's property tax rate.
"I worked out all of this without having [the donation] in hand," Hoch said. "I can deal with the uncertainty of getting the project built so we have a building to use next year. I have the ability to pay for it without raising taxes. I've also done it without 'maxing out our credit cards,' so to speak.
"The college coming in at this level of support gives me great peace of mind in the short run and the long run."
With a nod to the town's construction team, Hoch laid out a timeline that has shovels in the ground as early as June 4 and the new police station ready for occupancy in summer 2019. He also provided more detail about the funding streams he will use to get the town to 2025, when the building bond for Williamstown Elementary School is retired and the money used to make payments for the school can be shifted to the police station bond.
Hoch credited architect Caolo and Bienek Associates of Chicopee and owner's project manager Architectural Consulting Group of New Bedford with helping the town through a rapid design process that has allowed him to put the project out to bid on Wednesday of this week.
He also thanked Clark Rowell of Unibank, the bonding agent for the Mount Greylock Regional School building project, with helping develop a strategy for funding the new police station.
That process includes next month's annual town meeting when Hoch plans to ask voters to authorize $5 million borrowing to cover the cost of the new station. He will do that with bids on hand; bidders have a May 9 deadline to respond to the advertisements that go out on Wednesday.
That will put him a step ahead of the Mount Greylock project, which was overwhelmingly approved by the town in 2016, noted Select Board Chairman Hugh Daley, who also serves on the school district's building committee.
"The high school didn't have bids; it had estimates," Daley pointed out on Monday.
The town also won't need to have a ballot vote on the police station. Since the funding plan does not require payments to be excluded from Proposition 2 1/2, a two-thirds vote at town meeting is all that will be required.
Hoch's plan is to use funds from a variety of sources — including, now, the $400,000 Williams donation — to help make approximately $350,000 annual payments on the $5 million bond over the first six years of its 20-year life.
He does not plan on touching the $1.3 million the town currently has in its stabilization account. The reasons he gave on Monday were twofold: A healthy stabilization balance helps the town's bond rating, and borrowing significantly less than $5 million would reduce the pool of potential buyers when the bond is floated in mid May.
The town currently pays about $1.6 million per year on existing debt, including the bonds for the elementary school and new middle/high school. Hoch's plan until 2025 includes using funds like savings from the recently operational solar project at the town's transfer station, free cash and the reclassification of old accounts that are on the books and will require town meeting votes to release. Hoch said the town also is exploring possible grants that could pay for parts of the project, like communications.
Police Chief Kyle Johnson attended Monday's meeting to walk the Select Board through diagrams of the new station, which will make maximum use of the existing Turner House — a former home for veterans that closed in 2016 — and keeps the department's "essential services," like dispatch and an emergency operations center, in the new addition to the rear of the property.
That property, incidentally, is not quite as large as the town thought when it first began acquiring the parcel, Hoch explained. On May 15, the town will see an article on the town meeting warrant related to Williams College's other contribution to the project: the gift of a small piece of land that ensures the acreage the town needs for the new station.
Even without the additional land or the additional square footage, the former Turner House already has paid dividends for the department, Johnson said on Monday.
Last week, the Police Department, in conjunction with the Berkshire County Special Response Team, ran an active shooter training in the building. Johnson said about 30 law enforcement personnel participated in the exercise.
"The hardest part of doing an active shooter training is having a building," he said. "Not that there's real damage, but there are paint splotches and things.
"We've had the training in the past, but the more you train, the better you are."
Hoch announced that the town plans to plant at least nine trees on the town green on or about April 27, to coincide with Arbor Day. The plantings are funded by a grant from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation and a gift from the college.
Town residents will have a chance to do some greening up of their own on Saturday. A community trash pickup originally scheduled for April 7 was moved to April 14 because of last week's weather. Select Board member Anne O'Connor reminded interested residents that the pickup will be Saturday between 10 and 2. Anyone who is interested should come to Field Park to pick a location and get yellow bags for collection and bring their own gloves.
Finally on Monday, the Select Board voted 5-0 to affirm its intention to negotiate a three-year renewal of Hoch's contract as town manager.
Tags: gift, police station, town meeting 2018, Williams College,
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