Two votes facing Vergennes residents next Tuesday — a $1.45 million bond to fund a new police station, and a $600,000 loan to replace the high school roof — deserve community support.
The $1.45 million police station proposal is a scaled-down version of a more elaborate $1.85 million structure that was narrowly defeated on Town Meeting Day. The new proposal, which cut 1,300 square-feet, eliminated one officer room, fitness and intake rooms and a drive-in evidence-processing garage. The 4,611-square-foot building is still seven times the size of the current police headquarters (740-square-feet) and includes most of what was in the first proposal (see story on Page 1A).
For the $1.45 million, the city will get a site on North Main Street that provides enough space for the building and parking (roughly three-quarters of an acre), a sally port, two holding cells, two interview rooms, a booking room, a juvenile holding room and evidence storage, as well as an administrative area that includes a lobby, a patrol room, men’s and women’s locker rooms, a multi-purpose room for training and a break room, an office for the chief, a witness interview room, a technology room and several storage rooms for weapons and records.
That’s still a substantial building that will require significant on-going maintenance costs far in excess of what city residents have been paying at the current site in the Vergennes Opera House building. But no one is arguing for maintaining the status quo. All agree the current site is inadequate and poses safety concerns to the public when public events are ongoing at the VOH, as well as operational problems on a daily basis for police.
While some may argue the building is still large for a community the size of Vergennes, the cuts scale the building down to a size that should fit on the proposed lot without having to buy neighboring land — more savings on top of the $400,000 cut out of the original proposal.
Police Chief George Merkel told residents at a Tuesday informational meeting that he supported the redesign of the station saying that city police officers were “doing great work” and that the proposed building was “the kind of facility we need to do that.”
It’s a reasonable plan that fits the city’s needs and should garner the support of city residents.
City residents also face a barebones decision to replace the Vergennes Union High School’s leaky roof via a five-year $600,000 loan. That is the most critical element of larger improvements the ANwSU school board wants to push through, but decided to isolate this one expense in Tuesday’s vote in the hopes it would pass — thus preventing further damage to the building.
As a minimum measure, replacing the roof is a must to prevent further damage to the building and bigger replacement costs down the road if it’s not fixed soon.
The tactics of isolating the roof, however, may or may not work in the school board’s favor when it comes to proposing other improvements that are not as critical. School board members have said they will likely propose another bond this coming fall in the neighborhood of $2 million to upgrade the school’s kitchen and cafeteria, the auditorium’s heating and ventilation system, and site improvements to stop water infiltration. That expected bond proposal, officials said, will also likely include more favorable long-term funding for the roofing work.
While that is substantially less than the $6.5 million bond proposal for school improvements residents rejected this past November, it remains to be seen whether residents will view those remaining components as critical enough to warrant back-to-back votes to upgrade the school facility.
For Tuesday’s vote, however, the $600,000 loan to replace the roof makes good sense, as does the new police station.
Angelo S. Lynn