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City to study possible new police station

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December 14, 2006

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday agreed to study a possible new home for the city’s police department, which now occupies three rooms with an entrance shared with city hall and the Vergennes Opera House.

Mayor April Jin, City Manager Renny Perry, Police Chief Mike Lowe and Alderman David Austin will evaluate options that Jin said could include a former doctor’s office off Monkton Road, the current home of the Vergennes-Panton Water District on Canal Street, the basement of the Bixby Library, and possibly downtown homes or apartment buildings.

Jin said the council developed consensus on two issues, that the current station is less than desirable and that they would prefer the cheapest solution possible, if any.

“We decided we would pursue looking into it, but we want something that won’t cost a lot of money,” Jin said.

Lowe outlined the problems of the current station in a memo to aldermen. He noted that:

• Bringing criminal suspects into the station during opera house events was undesirable and potentially dangerous.

• The station lacks a proper interview room in which, Lowe said, information that could “make or break a case” can be gathered. (Jin on Wednesday agreed that such a room is needed: “Sometimes I’ve gone in and police have been talking to witnesses on the stairs,” she said.)

• The station lacks proper space to preserve and store evidence.

• The station lacks a secure detainment room, leaving police and suspects alike at risk for injury.

• The station lacks a bathroom, shower and adequate squad room.

Police also gave aldermen a 2001 memo prepared for one former department member, Chief Joe Anthony, by another, Cpl. Joe Pregent. Pregent wrote that “we do not meet even the basic (federal) requirements” for juvenile detention.

Sgt. Patrick Greenslet also wrote to the council, noting that the station does not “come close to protecting the identity of complainants, crime victims, and perpetrators;” lacks storage space; and has an entrance that has already caused “some unnerving encounters when a perpetrator that was in custody … has met a citizen that was conducting business in City Hall or attending a function at the opera house.”

Perry brought the police station issue to the table because he learned the former Vergennes Family Health Center off Monkton Road is on the market. The building has 3,400 square feet, a separate rental space, a 2-acre lot, and an asking price of $450,000.

Perry estimated that fitting up the building for the police department would bring the total project cost to $600,000 or $700,000, which would be partially offset by rent from space now occupied by the Counseling Service of Addison County. Perry said grants might also help fund renovation and purchase costs. 

He also backed finding a new home for city police in a memo to aldermen, both for police and for the needs of city officials and the theater.

“The police function is not compatible with the other two functions in the building and it is just a matter of time when there will be a major problem. We need the space for City Hall use, such as an adequate permanent meeting room for the city council,” Perry wrote.

Jin said any move to buy a building would require a citywide bond vote.

“The public will have the say-so on it,” she said.

Before aldermen think about such a proposal, Jin said they need information that the new committee will gather.

“You have to figure out what all of this will cost us,” she said. “We have to explore and see what’s worth doing.”

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