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Police Chief Timothy Sorrell and the Board of Selectmen discuss the next steps to solve the issues with the police station.

Lanesborough to Request Needs Assessment For Police Station

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Town Manager Kelli Robbins hopes the $13,000 that town meeting approved to renovate the police station will be enough to do a feasibility study for a bigger project.
 
Robbins told the Board of Selectmen on Monday night that she is putting together a request for qualifications to do a needs assessment on a headquarters for the Police  Department. The assessment would be the first step needed to not only get cost estimates for various options but also a requirement to get funding to do a project.
 
"The study is going to tell us nuts to bolts what needs to be fixed," Robbins said.
 
A feasibility study is what the Police Department had wanted to use the money for in the first place. The Board of Selectmen took the request for $13,000 to a special town meeting in October looking for the money to continue working on the station.
 
The Police Department, however, made a pitch at that meeting to use it for a feasibility study for a new station instead. Voters ultimately opted to direct the money toward the ongoing renovation headed by Selectman Robert Ericson.
 
Things have changed since October. The town's insurance company has called for the 151-year-old building to be vacated, citing a number of concerns. The Selectmen feel the project has now grown to become too expensive and are pumping the brakes.
 
Next, town officials want to take another request to town meeting asking whether voters want to tear down and rebuild the current station, purchase and renovate Vacation Village, or bring in a contractor to renovate the existing structure.
 
"We've stopped work on the police station. We had a contract with Green Communities [state grant] to complete that work and we had a contract with our townspeople to complete that work. Now we have stopped work," Ericson said.
 
Ericson is frustrated with the way things have unfolded. He has been working on the project for years hoping to save the town money and get the building into a position where it would serve the department for years into the future. Now he feels like he is being left out of the picture. He said he wants any cost estimates to be based on the plan he and architects had developed for a renovation.
 
But it isn't that easy. Robbins said the feasibility study could identify issues not included in Ericson's plans such as a separate dressing room for women officers. Ericson had a plan to just get a lock for the changing room. Robbins said that doesn't comply with state law that requires a separate changing area. That will add cost to a renovation project because it would require a new design.
 
Robbins also is concerned that even the $13,000 figure will not be enough to fund the assessment, though she said she'd be meeting with the treasurer to see if there are any other areas to help bolster that request. She said other feasibility studies have cost in the $23,000 range and this one is more complicated than most because it involves looking at multiple options. Should that not be enough, the Board of Selectmen might have to bring a request for money for that study to town meeting.
 
A possible source of funding to do whichever project is chosen would be selling land the town owns on Prospect Street.
 
At first, Robbins wasn't sure if the town could sell it but has since looked into the law more in depth and believes it can. She said the restrictions are only if the town purchases lands for parks, then it cannot be sold unless more parkland is provided. But the town didn't buy that land for a park, it bought it for a senior center.
 
"It makes more sense to get rid of it and sell it," Ericson said of the Prospect Street land.
 
Money to build a senior living and senior center had dried up and that project never moved forward. The town has been sitting on the land for years, though it did try to get a solar developer to use some of it. 
 
Robbins, meanwhile, said the Green Community program, which funded much of Ericson's renovations to date, is no longer a funding source. She said the grant has been closed and "they are done paying for the police station."
 
If continuing with a renovation project is the chosen option, Goerlach said the work won't be done by Ericson. He says such a project would be done by bringing in a contractor to get it done quicker. That would also require the Police Department to find a temporary headquarters during that period.
 
In other business, the issues between the Lakeside Bar and Grill and the nearest neighbor is escalating. For years, even under previous ownership of Matt Reillys, neighbor Stephen Ciepiela has had issues with noise from the restaurant. According to Goerlach, the problems began as live music came into the picture. 
 
Now, police say Ciepiela has been calling as much as three times a night to complain. 
 
"The concern is it is going to escalate as we get into the warmer months," said Officer Nick Penna.
 
Penna said the owners of the restaurant have made good faith gestures to keep noise from live bands down but it hasn't curbed the complaints. At the same time, Police Chief Timothy Sorrell said every call has been before 10 p.m. — and some calls as early as 6 p.m. — and that a decibel reader has shown that at times passing vehicles are louder than the bar.
 
Selectman Henry "Hank" Sayers, however, said it isn't about the noise level, but the consistency.
 
"It is just the wear and tear on you after hours and hours and hours of the same noise that drives you crazy," Sayers said.
 
The bar is operating in compliance with its permits so there is little town officials can do. The board could restrict those hours but Robbins said that should only be done when they renew the permit. The Selectmen are encouraging Lakeside to find ways to help restrict the sound such as trees but recognize that could get expensive. The Selectmen suggested Ciepiela and Lakeside both split the cost to put up trees to act as a sound barrier.
 
"There is really nothing we can do," Goerlach said.

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