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Walpole’s Police Station Saga

March 31, 2010

For those in Walpole who insist that there is no way we can build a combined police and fire facility downtown, history would say otherwise.  Not only did one whole committee unanimously recommend that a combined facility be built downtown in 2007, but the proposal was mysteriously rejected by Selectmen, the chairman of the committee mysteriously resigned, and the committee itself was dissolved by Selectmen.  Take a look at the whole frightening saga dating back to 2006 and into the present below:

June 2006:
Town voters soundly reject a Robbins Road police station proposal.

January 2007:
The Public Safety Facilities Study Committee, formed by Selectmen after the 2006 vote, unanimously recommends the Selectmen take on the idea of a $16 million combined fire and police building on Stone Field. The committee, chaired by former Selectman Bill Ryan, finds that all existing and planned buildings, including the proposed library and even a potential senior center, “can fit into the downtown municipal complex.”  Member Jack Conroy goes on record saying a combined facility downtown is “the most cost effective.”  Member Tom Bowen, who had opposed the 2006 proposal for a police station on Robbins Road, says that a new combined facility makes the most sense.  Members state that the new proposal “is just about what the selectmen’s municipal facilities study committee recommended three years ago.”  The number of parking spaces would not be reduced, but rather would be re-arranged.  Members affirm that the plan creates a more attractive downtown.  Stone Field would get eliminated altogether.  WalpoleNews.com reports “the expectation is that the new combined proposal is headed for a Town Meeting vote in May and a spot on the June town election ballot for an override vote.”  Construction is estimated at about $14 million, in addition to $2 million for design, engineering, and furnishing.  Conroy states that a standalone police station on Robbins Road seems to be very expensive.  Furthermore, Police Chief Richard Stillman and Fire Chief Tim Bailey both support  the combined facility idea.  Firefighters and police officers have concerns about angling fire trucks to get out into Stone Street with the new station.  However, consultant Greg Carrell says that concerns can be addressed as the planning continues.

Because Al DeNapoli was absent, the Board of Selectmen decide to postpone the vote on whether to endorse the committee’s recommendation.

March 2007:
Bill Ryan resigns from the station study committee and from the capital budget committee “because the way a town position was filled was based on politics, not fairness and honesty.”  No specifics were stated.  Circumstances for resignation still unknown.

April 2007:
Selectmen vote unanimously to defeat the proposal to build a combined facility.  It is the first time in three months that they address the proposal.  Selectmen discuss the proposal at length behind closed doors, without the public being able to know what was being discussed.  The board also votes unanimously to dissolve the committee that made the recommendation in January after months of study.  Selectman Chris Timson gives only a brief explanation as to why it was voted down, saying that the size of the facility would mean there was not enough room for it and a nearby senior center.  Selectmen decide to declare themselves as a new study committee to come up with a brand new proposal to submit to the Fall Town Meeting.  It is now the umpteenth time that a new study has to be conducted.

August 2008:
Senior center officials declare they no longer seek to build a senior center where Stone Field is, possibly affecting the combined facility plan, giving it more space.

September 2008:
Selectmen vote unanimously to request October Town Meeting appropriate $50,000 to review the possibilities for replacing the existing police and fire stations.  Selectmen seek a proposal that can be brought to Spring 2009 Town Meeting and to voters in June 2009.  They estimate the full project would cost about $20 million.  Looking at both the possibility of a downtown combined facility and the possibility of a police station on Robbins Road will be the focus of the study.  Town Administrator Michael Boynton proposes renovating the existing police station and adding on to connect both the fire station and police station.  However, he says it would cost more than a new police station.  However, he also points out that renovating the existing station provides a use for the historic structure of the old police station.

November 2008:
The town announces that the spring semester project at the Boston Architectural College will study whether it is possible to convert and expand the existing police station into a facility that can meet the needs of the department.  They will determine whether it is possible to gut the station and extend it to link to a new fire station on its present site.  The study will cost nothing for the town, saving as much as $50,000 to design new police and fire stations.
From WalpoleNews.com: “Locating a combined facility at the existing site has emerged as a leading option for the long-awaited project.”

August 2009:
The Walpole Youth Football and Cheerleading organization says it wants to improve Stone Field “to create a parklike setting that would be an asset to downtown.”  They say they would raise the necessary funding to do so, and Selectmen show their enthusiasm for such a proposal.  The plan could render any ideas to build a public safety facility on Stone Field defunct.

November 2009:
The Boston Architectural College suddenly determines that there is not enough space downtown for a combined police and fire facility.  It is in direct contrast to multiple previous studies by other town groups.

December 2009:
In an “open letter to the citizens of Walpole”, the Board of Selectmen declares that “the police station, due to a lack of any suitable downtown space for a combined Police/Fire facility, is the first priority.”

February 2010:
Less than four months away from what is supposed to be a final vote on a new police station on Robbins Road, no one seems to know how much it would cost.  Assistant Town Administrator James Johnson reports that at $300 per square foot, a new Robbins Road police station would cost around $8 million.  Previous statements by Town Administrator Michael Boynton, however, make clear that the cost of new public safety facilities is “pushing $400 per square foot.”  Furthermore, a separate report by A.M. Fogarty and Associates, Inc. states the cost is $351 per square foot.  Who’s right?

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