Board balks at public safety building cost



MOUNT DESERT — Yikes! 

That was pretty much the Board of Selectmen’s reaction to the $8.5 million to $10 million estimated cost of building an addition to the Town Hall for the fire department, Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service and more space for the police department. 

Board members said that, while they know that new, larger facilities are greatly needed, they didn’t think they could ask voters at Town Meeting to approve such a big expense. 

They asked Fire Chief Mike Bender and Public Works Director Tony Smith to find a way to meet the most pressing needs for less money. 

The need for expanded facilities is being driven by the continuing decline in the number of volunteer firefighters, which means the fire department will need to hire more full-time firefighters, which, in turn, means the town will need to provide living quartersThe ambulance service is facing similar needs. 

A year ago, Bender proposed building a one-story addition to the Town Hall for emergency services personnel and vehicles at an estimated cost of around $3 million. But over the summer, he concluded that such an expansion would not be adequate in the long run.  

“When you build a building like this, I feel you should build it for the future, not for just your immediate needs,” Bender told the selectmen. 

The next proposal was for a new building to be constructed on the wooded town-owned lot at the intersection of Sea Street and Harbor Drive – across the parking lot from the Town Hall – at an estimated cost of $7.5 million. 

Several selectmen said that was too expensive, and board member Martha Dudman objected to the location. The board asked Bender and Public Works Director Tony Smith, along with Hedefine Engineering & Design, to go back to the drawing board. 

What they came up with was an expanded version of the original plan. It called for a two-story addition to the Town Hall, with plenty of space for fire and EMS personnel and their vehicles, as well as more administrative and storage space for the police department. 

When the selectmen on Tuesday expressed shock that the new plan could cost as much as $10 million, Mount Desert resident Chris Moore asked whether the building previously considered for the corner of Sea Street and Harbor Drive at an estimated cost of $7.5 million could, instead, be built near the south side of the Town Hall.  

Smith said that would be possible. And he and the public safety chiefs agreed that, with thnew building accommodating the fire department and ambulance service, there would be space in the Town Hall building for the police department to expand. 

Smith said he thought it was possible the new building could be constructed for $5 million to $6 million. 

He said he would work with Bender and Hedefine to bring a new design concept and cost estimate to the selectmen at their Feb. 1 meeting. 

Bender said the need for such a facility is becoming urgent. He told the selectmen on Tuesday that would like to have a design plan and projected cost for them to present to voters at Town Meeting in May. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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