2015-04-03 / Community

Kennebunk eyes new public safety building

Board of selectmen create exploration committee
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — While most local taxpayers weigh a $56.5 million June bond vote – designed to pay for renovations to three RSU 21 school buildings – municipal officials in Kennebunk are eyeballing a major construction project of their own.

At its March 24 meeting, the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen voted 6-1 to create an eight-person Long- Range Public Safety Building Exploration Committee.

That group will begin the process of building a new public safety building to house the police, fire and rescue departments under one roof. Appointed to the committee were Town Manager Barry Tibbetts, Finance Director Joel Downs, Police Chief Robert MacKenzie, Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe and Community Development Director Christopher Osterrieder, along with Selectmen Christopher Cluff, Richard Morin and Albert Searles.

The municipal budget for next year, approved by selectmen at the March 24 meeting and subject to town meeting approval June 9, includes $35,000 to fund committee operations.

“These monies might be used for consultants, architects, engineers, etc., but I wouldn’t expect anything to be spent immediately,” Tibbetts said. “Data needs to be collected so a thorough analysis can be undertaken.”

Still, not all selectmen, not even those appointed to the committee, are wild about the its mission, regardless of how much money it may or may not spend.

“I want to be on this committee, but I want to make it perfectly clear I am not 100 percent in favor of this idea,” Searles said. “I’ve just sat here and let the ball roll because it seemed to be what the consensus wanted to do.”

Searles said he is open to listening to various proposals for a public safety building, but doubted a building large enough to suit the intended purpose could be built anywhere except on the outskirts of town, for lack of a sufficiently-sized lot.

“Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I believe the police station, and certainly the central portion of the fire station, belong as close to, if not in, the downtown as possible,” Searles said.

However, Chairman Kevin Donovan intimated other options may open up in the near future. Given declining school enrollments, an agreement that compels RSU 21 to keep one school in each of its three towns, and the proposed slate of building renovations — which, if approved by voters, will include overhauls to the Kennebunk High School, Kennebunkport Consolidated School, and the Mildred Day Elementary School in Arundel — there has been recent rumbling on the school board about eventually closing the Sea Road Elementary School, located across the road from the public works complex.

“I think originally, what appeared to be the plan was to bring the fire and police departments into some new building,” said Donovan, “but depending on what the schools do, there potentially could be an open building that could house different facilities.”

But potential access to a large lot reasonably close to the downtown area did not sway all board members.

Selectman David Spofford said he does not intend to run for re-election in June, making him ineligible to serve on the long-range planning committee. Still, he wanted to voice his objections for the record.

“I’m not in favor of this at all,” he said, explaining his no vote. “I think we have adequate buildings for both police and fire in this town. I think with all of the other costs that we have going on, especially with the school building project, this is something we least need, or will need for quite some time.”

“This is not a city the size of Westbrook. This is a town,” agreed Arline Poisson, the lone audience member to speak to the issue.

“I don’t think the exploratory committee should even be formed at all,” she said. “I really think this is a waste of money. I’m not in favor of it at all.”

Still, Donovan pointed out that the operative words in in the name of the Long- Range Public Safety Building Exploration Committee, were both “exploratory,” and “long-range.”

“This is something we are looking at for the needs of these departments 10 or 15 years down the road,” he said. “There’s no way this is going to happen in five years.”

An initial meeting date for the new committee was not given. However, because the membership includes three selectmen, it is by law considered an official meeting of the board, subject to all of the same public access and notice requirements.

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