EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 4, 2013

Rifles, roofs and plows on city's shopping list

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — City cops don’t have the firepower they would need to face down a gunman bent on the kind of mass murder that occurred in a Connecticut elementary school last month. Ten rifles are needed, at $2,000 each.

Snowplowing equipment is so old that one city official says they should carry “antique” license plates.

The sagging concrete floor at the South Broadway firehouse is propped up by scaffolding in the basement and unable to support equipment assigned to the building.

The police station was cramped and overcrowded even on the day it opened in 1966. Replacing it would cost about $12 million.

A roof the size of a football field at the North Common Education Center leaks badly and needs a $1.6 million fix.

The above are some of the items city officials say are needed a decade after Lawrence stopped making major capital improvements and purchases because there was no longer the money to pay for them. The city’s top commissioners and department heads met Wednesday to tally the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to fix the years of neglect.

The central problem remains: there’s still no money.

“I imagine we’re going to have $100 million to $200 million worth of needs,” Budget Director Mark Ianello told the group. “We’re only going to be able to fund a fraction of that.”

Ianello estimated there is up to $800,000 in a capital projects fund the city was directed to establish three years ago in exchange for the state’s approval to borrow $27 million to pay off years of operating budget deficits. More funding could come by tapping state and federal aid or by refinancing some of the city’s $116 million in debt, Ianello said.

Ianello directed the group — which includes Police Chief John Romero, Fire Chief Jack Bergeron, acting Public Works Director John Isensee and Economic Development Director Patrick Blanchette — to return Feb. 6 with a list of projects that would cost at least $25,000 and have a life of at least three years.

By spring, the group is scheduled to rank the projects according to a formula that will include whether there is state or federal aid to help pay for them, then submit the list to Mayor William Lantigua, who could amend it before sending it on to the City Council.

Already, Isensee has begun inventorying the work needed at each of the 70 or so buildings the city owns, which includes 28 school buildings and totals about three million square feet. Checklists for each of the buildings include boilers, roofs, windows, air conditioners, elevators and compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Romero brought his own list of what’s needed at the 47-year-old police station on Haverhill Street, built when Lyndon Johnson was president. His list is a short one.

“We need a whole new building,” the chief said.

He said putting rifles in police cruisers is a more immediate need.

“What happened in Connecticut, you really need rifles in cars,” Romero said, noting that they shoot further and more accurately than the handguns police carry. “God forbid it should ever happen here.”