BELMONT — Residents who spoke during a public hearing on a proposed $3.5 million bond for construction of a new police station agreed there was need for more room, but some opposed plans to build it on the site the department now occupies.
The Belmont Facility Strategy Committee has held four community forums to garner residents’ input and ultimately recommended that the first priority was to build a new police station, as the facility at 16 Fuller St. is overcrowded and has safety issues.
The committee concluded the best approach to resolving the space needs of police would be to tear down the Corner Meeting House on the abutting lot and relocate the general assistance office and public meeting rooms to the Belmont Mill.
Town Administrator K. Jeanne Beaudin estimated an interest rate of 2.4% for 20 years resulting in an annual payment of $111,205 beginning in Jan. 2021 based on discussions with the New Hampshire Municipal Bond Bank.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Ruth Mooney lamented that last March just 400 residents turned out to vote. Mooney said, the police department is producing a brochure that will detail the need for a larger building.
A two-thirds majority vote is needed for passage of the bond.
Facility Strategy Committee member Carmen Lorentz said she supports the proposed $3.5 million bond, telling selectmen the group was very sensitive to using property the town already owned.
Selectman Jon Pike clarified that the proposed plan didn’t represent the opinion of the committee or the board, but that it was developed based on the consensus from several public forums.
Belmont resident George Condodemetraky said he “supports the police department thoroughly,” but argued that the small footprint of the lot where the new station is proposed to be built is not big enough to allow for future expansion. He also cited safety concerns.
“If there are high-speed emergencies, they have to be very careful going through town,” he said.
Condodemetraky also said he opposed tearing down the Corner Meeting House, especially after tax dollars had been spent to improve it.
“Are we married to tearing the building down?” he questioned.
Mooney said, “That’s entirely up to the voters.”
Like Condodemetraky, resident Dennis Grimes said he opposes the committee’s recommendation that the Corner Meeting House be torn down once the neighboring police station is completed to create adequate parking. Grimes, too, said he was fully supportive of a new police station but voiced his opposition to the proposed site. He also expressed concern about pedestrian safety when police have to drive through town en route to an emergency.
Police Chief Mark Lewandoski conceded there have been some “close calls” but asserted that his standing order to department members is that they are not to activate emergency lights and sirens when responding to an emergency until “they are on the main thoroughfare.”
Grimes suggested the town consider asking the state to give up some of its land near the town’s fire station and that the police station be built there, creating a safety complex.
“Good luck with that,” replied Board Chairman Ruth Mooney, commenting that the town sends letters to the state on nearly a monthly basis and struggles to get action on a variety of issues.
Mooney said the location of the fire department near the signalized intersection with Route 106 has created some problems with exiting emergency vehicles.Committee member Donna Hepp told selectmen she is recommending a design-build contract for the project that would include incentives for meeting the $3.5 million budget. Based on estimates provided by Lavallee Brensinger Architects, the cost would increase 3% each year if construction is deferred.