EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 17, 2014

Plaistow may fund $25,000 police station study

Police chief says complex outdated, overcrowded

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — PLAISTOW — From the outside, there looks to be nothing wrong with the Plaistow Public Safety Complex.

“People drive by and tell me that it looks great,” Plaistow police Chief Stephen Savage said.

But the inside tells a different story.

“It’s just not adequate anymore,” Savage said. “Our needs have severely outgrown it.”

Now, the road is starting to be paved for an expanded facility. Savage has asked selectmen for $25,000 to complete a preliminary engineering phase for a new police complex. The money will come from the town’s public safety impact fees. No money will have to be raised by the taxpayers. The study also includes a cost estimate for a new facility.

A warrant article to fund the study last year failed by just 12 votes. In 2010, voters rejected a similar study with a $25,000 price tag.

Selectmen’s Chairman Robert Gray said he was in favor of using this money toward the study.

Selectmen are in the midst of a hearing process on the study and should make a decision within a few weeks.

“We need to have a study we can present to townspeople, so they have something tangible and are able to make an informed decision,” he said. “Right now, we have a situation where you walk through and there isn’t one room which is adequate for the laws which are on the books today.”

The study would determine the best location for the facility. Currently, the police and fire departments share the same building, which was built in 1985. But there is the possibility of a new police building, with the fire department taking over the current building.

One possibility for the site of a new police facility is land behind the current complex. The town acquired 3.5 acres of land last year with the intention of building a new police complex.

“The study will look at all possible options,” Gray said. “Those include renovation or a new building,”

He said the study is integral for the town.

“Aging facilities need to be addressed,” he said. “Unfortunately, it costs money to do that.”

From a tiny communications center to the detectives housed in a portable trailer, Savage said nearly every aspect of the 5,000-square-foot building has deficiencies. But there are a couple concerns that stand out to him.

“There are serious safety and security issues in here,” Savage said.

He said the four holding cells are among the concerns.

“You just don’t use bars anymore in their holding cells,” he said. “People can hang themselves too easily. We need a cinderblock room with a steel door.”

One room is being used as a conference room, interview room and a storage space.

“There is nothing here that’s being underutilized,” Savage said.

Thin walls also cause confidentiality issues.

“If someone wants to tell me that they are getting beaten by their wife, they’ll want to keep it private,” Savage said. “But it won’t be kept private unless we talk at a whisper.”

While Savage knows that the building needs major upgrades, his worry is that the public won’t feel the same way.

“We spend a lot of time making the building look good,” he said.

If the study is done this year, the hope is for voters to make a bigger decision next year.

“We’d like to have voters vote on some type of bond in 2015,” Gray said. “What form that takes will be determined by this study.”

But Savage is skeptical voters will approve it.

“I just don’t know if the town’s ready for it,” he said. “We’re going to be asking for a lot of money.”