Freedom — January 3, 2011 — Selectmen here are moving forward with getting plans drawn up and asking March town meeting voters to support construction of a public safety building. A committee is asking the board instead to explore the feasibility and costs of housing the fire department on Village Road and keeping the police department and town offices atop the hill in the center of the village where they currently are.
The Old School Future Use Committee, formed by selectmen in June, was given the task of coming up with ideas for the future use of the building that currently houses the town offices and police station and to “think outside the box.”
Marshall Kendall, a member of that committee, presented a letter to the board that was co-signed by 18 others and spoke about it at Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting.
The committee, he reminded the board, came up with its top nine best uses for the building. The letter, he said, asks the board to do further research into the committee’s findings. Right now, he said, the committee is feeling their work and opinions are being dismissed without consideration.
In an attachment, the top choices are ranked in the preferred order of possible future uses – office campus, office-modified upgrade, fitness center, craft center, office-full upgrade, activity center, sell the building, child daycare, and adult daycare.
The campus option, the committee’s top pick, involves the town purchasing the house and the Masonic lodge that sit atop the hill with the town office building and using all or part of one of those buildings to house the police department. All three selectmen disagree with that option.
“The idea of having the fire department and police department in one location is the one thing I’ve seen everyone agree on,” said Selectman Neal Boyle. “We got a very clear message at last year’s town meeting that this is not the time for frills. The new building will be structured to have add-ons in the future. This building (town office building) is nothing to write home to mother about. And the Masons have much worse problems in that building. Let’s get the fire and police departments together and then come back to this site.”
Selectman Les Babb said the architect, SMP, was asked to go back to the drawing board and design a public safety building for today’s fire and police needs. The previous design, which failed to pass muster at last year’s town meeting, called for a building that would meet the needs of emergency services in town 25 years from now.
Selectman Scott Cunningham noted that if a “bare bones” plan had been presented to voters last year it likely would have passed. “I can’t see waiting another year. Josh [Shackford] does a good job managing the police department in this inadequate facility,” said Cunningham.
Babb indicated the most pressing issue is to get the police department moved to a more secure location out of the town office building. There are concerns, he said, about preservation of evidence and protecting the privacy of crime victims and witnesses and it is very difficult to do that now. Interviews are currently being conducted at the sheriff’s department and state police barracks because Freedom Police Department lacks adequate facilities for this.
“The message we got at this year’s town meeting was to figure out what we need and get it done the cheapest way possible. The architect is coming back with a design that meets what we need today,” said Babb.
John Shipman, a member of the committee, said moving forward with the campus-style approach as suggested by the committee would involve the town purchasing the house and Masonic Lodge.
“We already have one old building. Do we really want to take on all that extra? I support the selectmen’s decision to combine the fire and police departments. Moving ahead with the plan for the building for those departments is something I support,” said Shipman.
At the close of discussion, selectmen said voters will likely be asked to support a warrant article that will allocate a small amount of money to continue studying future use of the town office building.
Selectmen also expect to receive the modified public safety building plans from the architect sometime in the next week or so. The plans will be discussed during a regular Monday night selectmen’s meeting.
Freedom selectmen’s meeting agendas as well as committee and board meeting minutes can be found on the town’s website at www.townoffreedom.net.