Divided City Council approves building new Chelsea police station
The Chelsea City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to build a new police station for the city, but the resolution approved calls for it to be downsized from the $2.5 million, 9,000-square-foot facility that was proposed.
Council members Cheri Albertson, Frank Hammer, Kent Martinez-Kratz, Ann Feeney and Mayor Jason Lindauer voted in favor of building the station station, citing the dilapidated condition of the current station and favorable interest rates for financing the project.
“These are the lowest interest rates I’ve ever seen,” said Lindauer. “The cost of interest will go up and up. This needs to be taken into account.”
City Council members William Holmberg and Rod Anderson voted against the proposal.
During discussion, Anderson said that it was the wrong time to spend money on a new police station in the current economic climate.
The new station will be built on the corner of Summit and Main streets near city offices. It will replace the current station located at 104 E. Middle St., which has housed the police station since 1941. The building was built in 1901. Police Chief Ed Toth has said the building is unsafe and woefully inadequate for the Police Department's needs.
But plans for the station have been controversial and gave rise to citizen opposition that stalled the project earlier this year.
Martinez-Kratz said the current police station is too dilapidated to continue using.
“Something needs to be done,” he said. But he also said the proposed cost was too high and that the plans needed to be reduced in size. He suggested eliminating space for council chambers from the plan.
“I would like to see a smaller footprint. I would like to see us forgo council chambers. In this economy, we need an adequate police station,” said Martinez-Kratz.
Hammer also thought the proposed plan was too large. “I agree with Kent. I wouldn’t mind seeing it tweaked down,” he said.
Toth said during his report that there are problems with the current station that “can’t be fixed.”
“On July 29, we lost electricity to the panel for two minutes. If a 911 call had come in, it would have rung off the hook,” said Toth, adding that the problem was with the building’s electrical wiring, not because the city had lost power, which would have started up the building’s generator.
Previously Toth has said the building is unsecure and presents several safety hazards to the officers. Among other problems, the entire third floor is sealed off by plastic due to black mold, and the basement locker room has several exposed wires along the ceiling.
Several people, including Chelsea residents Warren McArthur, Lucy Silverio and Doug Worthington, spoke against building a new police station during the public comments section of the meeting “Earlier this year, 651 Chelsea voters signed a petition to have the police station issue put to a vote of the people,” McArthur said. The city rejected those petitions because (of) certain technicalities.” He said those technicalities included things like the wrong font and paper size.
But City Manager John Hanifan said after the meeting that the petition circulated was invalidated due to several deficiencies.
“When dealing with election laws, it has to be specific, that’s the law,” he said.
The city was close to finalizing a plan earlier this year until citizens opposed to the scope of the project and the proposed location raised concerns. Residents went door to-door getting signatures on the petition.
Ultimately, the Planning Commission denied the city’s request to rezone the new property by a 4-3 vote. The City Council, which has the authority to ignore the recommendation, delayed a decision until after two public town hall meetings.
Hanifan said that the residents’ primary concerns at meetings held earlier this summer were over the size of the building, and whether the city could afford it at this time.
He outlined three options to the board, including canceling the project, moving forward with the current proposed design or altering the proposed design to reduce the size.
“The smaller version, with the elimination of council chambers would reduce 15 to 20 percent of the cost,” Hanifan said.
Lindauer said that he had looked at the drawings and conceded that the council chamber, if used about twice a month, was a waste of space.
“But it could be downsized,” he said, adding that the space could be used by other organizations when council was not in session.
“Some type of council chamber needs to be there,” he said.