After decades of getting progressively more crowded and a failed legal challenge to the project, Ellsworth is about to open its first new police station in 90 years.
The new Ellsworth Police Department headquarters, located in a former hardware store on the corner of High Street and Buttermilk Road, is roughly five times bigger than the City Hall space the department has outgrown. With the pending move, officers will no longer have to test drugs on their kitchen counter, have storage boxes stacked in hallways, or lockers that prevent entry doors from fully opening.
"We have pretty much a state-of-the-art facility," said Capt. Shawn Willey, who was busy alongside other employees on Friday afternoon getting ready for an open house.
Since 2003, when Willey was hired, the department has grown from 12 officers to 20 but has had precious little room to expand at City Hall, where it has been headquartered since 1933. The Depression-era building, constructed after the city's prior offices were destroyed in a massive downtown fire, also houses most of the city's administrative staff and fire department.
Several times over the years, the department raised the issue of needing more space and the elected city council said it would consider its options. As city councilors came and went from public service, the department stayed where it was.
The issue came to a head last year when city staff presented the council with a proposal to lease the former hardware store for 20 years from the building's owner, Gurney Investments. The council voted 5-2 in favor of the proposal, agreeing to lease the building for a total of slightly more than $3 million over the entirety of the 20-year lease. Together, the city and owner are spending about another $1.4 million on upgrading and renovating the building.
Willey said the city's cost for leasing the building and paying for some renovations are far less than what it likely would cost the city to build its own police station from scratch. Caribou, he noted, is spending $10 million on building a new station for its police department.
City Councilor Steve O'Halloran opposed the project. He agreed that the police department needed a new station, but said the proposal should have been put out to bid instead of negotiated directly with the landlord. O'Halloran and a group of commercial property owners challenged the city's decision in court, but a judge dismissed the complaint.
The new station has dedicated space and equipment for testing drugs seized in the field, separate locker rooms for men and women, a workout room, a conference room, a training room, an indoor garage bay, a break room and a waiting room — all things that the current station at City Hall does not have.
It also has more space for interviews, dispatchers and storing evidence and equipment. And it has enough space to add more personnel as the department continues to grow.
"We have the space," Willey said. "We know we're going to need it."
With the police department moving out of City Hall, the fire department plans to move its administrative offices upstairs from the building's basement, Glenn Moshier, Ellsworth's city manager and police chief, said.
It will convert the police evidence room into storage for medications for the fire department's new ambulance service, and will convert the old patrol room into a training room. The fire department will keep and renovate all of its current space in the basement of City Hall, he said.
Moshier said the city has been growing significantly, both in population and development, and that the city's municipal staff — including its police and fire departments — will continue to grow along with it.
"Growth is relative to what the community does," Moshier said. "We will need to grow as the community grows."
(c)2023 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)
Visit the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine) at www.bangordailynews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.