Lanesborough Looks to Temporarily Close Police Station
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The condition of the police station is forcing the town to find temporary accommodations for its police force.
The town's insurance company issued a report recommending the current station be vacated by employees because of the condition of the building. Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association inspected the building in October and cited a number of concerns and ruled that the building is unsafe.
"Renovation cease-and-desist until proof of all licenses and permits are produced and the project, the plans and the building are inspected by a third-party building inspector, DLS inspector and health inspector," the report reads.
"If renovations continue without being reviewed by these inspectors, I will also make a recommendation to the MIIA account representative and manager to review the project and liability and move this build to a builder's risk until completed and building occupancy is restored," reads the recommendations in the report recently submitted to the town.
"As the risk manager, I do not feel it is safe for the employees to continue occupancy under these conditions."
The report cited the following concerns: lack of licenses and permits for work being done, the safety of the employees, life safety codes, fire code, emergency exits, the quality of the working conditions, electrical code violations, electrical loan concerns, construction code concerns, construction material substitution to cut costs, covering suctional issues without addressing or securing them, mold infestation, rodent infestation, and ADA compliance.
The station has been routinely cited for being in poor condition. Selectman Robert Ericson, a retired engineer, took on a project to renovate the century-old building by himself. But work has been slow going and of the planned five phases of renovation, only the first two phases are close to completion.
The Lanesborough Police Officers Association MassCop, Local 390, has pushed on multiple occasions to move the project along and has been asking to start the process of building a new station. On more than one occasion, the union has taken its concerns with the structure to the Board of Selectmen.
Now with the MIIA report on hand, the Selectmen feel the liability of keeping officers in the building is too much.
"I don't think we should put anybody back in that building," Selectman Henry Sayers said at Monday's meeting.
For about an hour on Monday, the Selectmen, town manager, union representatives, and police chief discussed possible options. In the end, the board asked that Police Chief Timothy Sorrell and Town Manager Kelli Robbins get prices on various options.
A commercial storefront across the street could be available and Realtor Barbara Hassan suggested the former Vacation Village property is another possibility. Sorrell also said the section that is mostly renovated could be enough space to function temporarily while a contractor finishes the rest if power could be provided to that former garage space.
Sorrell added that the communications system would have to be moved to a new location as well and he'd need to get costs on that.
If none of those are feasible, Sayers suggested laying off the entire department until a long-term solution is in place. Sayers is particularly concerned that the town would have additional liability with multiple written opinions -- from the chief, union, and insurance company -- saying the building is unsafe.
"It might come to letting state police cover us until we can find a home," he said.
The officers didn't take that comment lightly. The union has been pressing for improved working conditions for years and the union's Jon Bishop said laying off the force would seem retaliatory. He sees such threats as being unfair labor practice.
"Any more engagement, we are going to have to go down a different path," Bishop said, adding that the MIIA report is "validation" to what the union has been saying all along.
Board of Selectmen Chairman John Goerlach disagreed with Sayer, saying laying the officers off is "not an option." But, he said there is urgency in finding a solution.
The Selectmen hope to have prices for a temporary location by Feb. 25 in order to move quickly on moving the officers out of the unfinished building. But there isn't a consensus as to what the long-term solution will be.
Sorrell suggested bringing in a contractor to look at the building and give a comprehensive opinion. He said Ericson's project does a lot for the inside but there are significant issues outside of that scope. He worries what else will be needed.
"I think we need somebody to probe in there and see what we are getting into," he said.
Sorrell also asked for permission to start an ad hoc committee to start a feasibility stage, which would likely be needed to receive any type of grant or low-interest loans from the federal government for the construction.
"We're throwing good money after bad if we keep working on that place up there," Sorrell said.
Robbins said the town could get a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for $1.4 million for 40 years that would result in the town paying $36,000 a year, and that the portion paid by taxpayers would be $814 overall, split among all of the taxpayers. With the town already owning property on Prospect Street, Robbins believes a new station could be built at half that cost.
"You won't even see it in your tax rate," she said.
The union always had the position of pursuing a new building and that hasn't changed. But the union hasn't been able to come up with any short-term solutions. The officers and Sorrell rejected an idea to have the officers work out of the basement at Town Hall, citing a lack of privacy and safe storage of evidence and records.
"There doesn't appear to be a lot of good solutions at this juncture," Bishop said.
Goerlach said he couldn't think of any buildings available that could immediately serve as a temporary police station.
Money also remains an issue. Robbins said some $22,000 has already been spent on the work already done and she is waiting to see what the state's Green Communities program can provide. Town meeting approved $13,000 for the project but Robbins said if Green Communities doesn't reimburse as much, then that money is already gone. The Selectmen would either need to dip into the $40,000 in stabilization or hold a special town meeting for the funds.
"We shouldn't be waiting for green energy. We should just move forward to get this accomplished," Goerlach responded.
The Green Communities money had always been the eyed source for the project since Ericson first pitched the work in 2014. But that grant program would only pay for weatherization aspects and the project went beyond what would qualify for reimbursement.
Sorrell had supported the project at the time thinking it would improve the working conditions at a low cost. But now, he believes the project has gone on too long and uncovered too many other problems.
"I was trying to be a team player and save the town money and I am regretting it now," Sorrell said.
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