LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — At about 7:30 Tuesday night, Chairman of the three-member Board of Selectmen John Goerlach asked for a motion. And there was silence.
The board had just spent an hour and a half critiquing a request for qualifications on conducting a needs assessment and feasibility study for a police station. It included looking at potential renovations to the current station, building new on a parcel near Laston Field, or renovations to building on the existing Vacation Village property.
But in a 2-1 vote, the Selectmen opted not to release the request and instead will look to hire a contractor to finish the current renovation project.
"We just need to continue what we are doing over there," said Selectman Robert Ericson said.
Ericson had taken on the renovation himself on a volunteer basis. He wanted to extend the life of the aging structure, preserving the history of the building while at the same time saving the town money. He wants to finish the job.
Henry "Hank" Sayers objected to spending money on a feasibility study. He and Ericson feel that spending money on a study would be a waste and that it is more economical for the town to use existing free cash to finish the renovation at the station, preventing the need to take on a larger capital project.
So neither Ericson nor Sayers would make a motion Tuesday night to approve moving forward with a feasibility study to help provide more insight on long-term options for the aged police facility.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we are challenged on it," said Goerlach, the sole vote against moving forward with the renovation instead.
The police union — Lanesborough Police Officers Association MassCop Local 390 — has filed multiple complaints about the condition of the building and has pushed for a feasibility study as the first step toward building a new station. The Police Department has more recently pushed for public backing to ensure the RFQ included all options in anticipation for an expected attempt to narrow the scope of the feasibility study — which the Selectmen did do on Tuesday night prior to killing the request when it removed the Vacation Village property from the document.
When reached after the meeting, Police Chief Timothy Sorrell said the department had gathered a petition with about 50 signatures in support of the RFQ. That was put together, and in hand, for the last Board of Selectmen meeting when word had gotten out that the board might try to limit the scope.
"I feel let down by the Selectmen," the police chief said, providing only a limited comment on the vote taken earlier Tuesday night.
Sorrell said he is planning on submitting the petition to get the question of funding the feasibility study placed on the town meeting warrant.
Ericson has been steadfast in his opposition to a study, repeatedly urging the town to continue with the work he had begun. Goerlach has been steadfast in his support for developing a long-term option through a study. Sayers has straddled both sides during the course of the debate, weighing each option, but often leaned against taking on a building project.
"I would like to see us just use the free cash and get [the current station] completed," Sayers said Tuesday night.
Goerlach added that if the town does move forward with the renovation, he doesn't want Ericson doing the work. Instead, he wants to hire a contractor to get the job done in a more timely manner.
"If you guys move forward, you are not doing any of the work Bob. It is going to a contractor. I don't think anything you've done is wrong but we need it to get completed faster," Goerlach said.
Town Manager Kelli Robbins had proposed using $13,000 town meeting had previously voted to go toward the renovation and couple that with another $12,000 in reserves to fund the study.
The switch in focus from being solely on a renovation to a new building took on greater urgency when the town's insurance company issued an order to halt renovations and move the officers out of the building.
The town's building inspector and the police union feel any spending on the current station is throwing good money after bad, that the building has just too many problems to continue to be a police station.
The renovation began in 2014
when Ericson, as a member of the town's Green Committee, identified the station as one that could use significant energy efficiency projects. The town tapped into the Green Communities state program to get money for various items. The project evolved from there. Ericson got an architect on board to craft a renovation plan and set his sights on a multiphase project to not only increase energy efficiency but significantly improve the working conditions.
The Police Department shifted records out of the building and have been storing them in a trailer as the project has slowly moved along. By 2018, the first phase of the project wasn't fully completed — delays Ericson mostly attributed to getting the architectural design of the renovations approved — and the union filed a lengthy letter outlining the conditions of the station, calling it "unsafe and unprofessional."
It had been the second time the union had filed such a complaint with the town leaders.
The union leaders said that while they appreciated Ericson's effort, they felt the project was just too big for him to handle on his own. The Board of Selectmen put pressure on Ericson to complete the first phase.
By October, Robbins found out that the Green Communities funds for the project had been exhausted, and that much of the materials and work Ericson had incurred wasn't going to be paid for by the grant. At a special town meeting, voters approved an additional $13,000 to continue with the renovation.
But at that special town meeting, the push for a new station grew. Police urged voters to instead use that $13,000 for the study.
The town owns land on Prospect Street that it had previously purchased to build a senior housing and community center on. Those plans included a police station on the property. But the funding had dried up for senior housing and the project has been in limbo since. The Police Department has pushed for its portion of those plans to be moved forward.
Using the town meeting funds for a study would be the first step in helping to secure grant funds or low-interest loans for a new capital project. State Sen. Adam Hinds toured the station following the union's complaints and said he'd help find a source — however, a funding source could be a few years out as there isn't much for grants available now. Hinds has turned his focus on a statewide assessment of public safety buildings that would create the justification for the creation of such a grant program.
Robbins found a low-interest loan the town could utilize and said it would have minimal impact on the tax rate should the town move forward with a new station.
The Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association visited the station in October and in February released a report threatening to move the structure into a "high-risk category" unless the project was halted and the officers moved out. The report cited a number of concerns regarding the partially renovated buildings — and at the time of the inspection, a portion of the building was very much still under construction.
The Selectmen doubt many aspects of the MIIA report. Ericson laid out of a number of counter-arguments to the findings, citing issues that have been taken care of, issues that are scheduled to be addressed in the future by his plans, and a few items that he felt the insurance company had just gotten wrong.
The Board of Selectmen continued to mull the options, looking for both a short-term solution and a long-term solution. The ideas ranged from laying off the officers and bringing in a contractor to repair the entire station at once, to staying in the building and continuing with the renovation, to buying the Vacation Village property and turning it into a senior center, police station, and office complex.
To pay for the eventual capital project, the Selectmen kicked around offsetting some of it by selling the Prospect Street land and coupling that income with low-interest loans and any potential grants.
The officers remain in the building and Robbins went to work crafting the request for a study. That was moving forward even through much of Tuesday when the Selectmen spent an hour and a half reviewing and editing the RFQ before ultimately deciding that they didn't want the study at all.
The study won't be moving forward just yet, but if the Police Department does submit a petition for the town meeting warrant, the voters may have the final say.