Caribou councilors approve preliminary design for new police station

2 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou city councilors voted to accept an initial design for the city’s future police station Monday.

In June 2022, Caribou voters approved the city borrowing no more than $10 million to pay for the police station’s design and construction. Local police have said that a new station is badly needed due to the current station’s lack of proper space for case files and evidence processing, as well as structural and plumbing issues. The current station was built in 1939 and is located in the basement of Caribou Municipal Building, leaving little room for officers to perform daily functions.

Last summer, city officials chose the site of the former Bird’s Eye food processing plant for the new police station, at the intersection of Fort Street and Route 1. 

Caribou paid the Bangor-based architectural and engineering firm Artifex $629,000 to work on designs for the police station. On Monday, Artifex Principal Architect Ellen Angel spoke to councilors about features she has included based on conversations with City Manager Penny Thompson and Police Chief Michael Gahagan.

At an estimated 11,897 square feet, the current design includes larger evidence processing areas, holding cells, interview rooms, a public waiting room, conference area, offices, a meeting room for social workers and clients on the first floor. 

The basement, which only law enforcement would access, includes a secure entryway for officers, more evidence storage, a wash bay and mechanical repair space for vehicles, fitness room and laundry facilities.

Angel said that she and colleagues designed the first floor’s interview rooms to be larger and more separate from the holding cells to ensure privacy. Modern police stations have been incorporating more space for mental health services, she said.

After touring five new police stations in the Chicago area, Thompson and Gahagan consulted with Artifex on how to build in modern technologies and community-oriented spaces that police will likely be prioritizing for decades, Thompson said.

“You have to be thinking 50 years out and make this a space for the community,” Thompson said. “Many of the stations we visited had a public room where Cub Scouts and other organizations could meet.”

Angel said that as of Monday evening she had yet to hear a cost estimate for the current design. But this design is not final and subject to more changes, she noted.

“This is a very basic design. We’re at the point where we want to ask how large these spaces should be,” Angel said.

Councilor Dan Bagley suggested that the city consider using its $2.5 million in congressional funds for the police station to offset the total cost if the project goes beyond the $10 million that voters approved.

The ballot referendum prevents the city from borrowing more than $10 million, not from spending more than $10 million, Bagley noted.

Councilors also approved paying $31,9000 to the Maine-based firm S.W. Cole Engineering, Inc. to perform soil testing at the Fort Street site. Those test results might also play a role in project cost and future design choices, Angel noted.

During public comments, Troy Haney, chairperson of the Caribou Development Committee, suggested that his committee and city officials look over the Bird’s Eye site to ensure the station does not prevent other development opportunities.

“From a development standpoint, the location [of a new station] would render the rest of the acreage useless,” Haney said. “I’m not against the location, but we’d like to look at it again to see if we have other options.”

Councilors opted to keep the Fort Street location as the police station’s future location and discuss ways to reduce project cost at future meetings.

Artifex’s preliminary designs are posted on the city’s website.

In other business, councilors heard 2024 budget proposals from Public Works Director Dave Ouellette.

Ouellette proposed a $2,925,166 budget for 2024, compared with the $2,709,266 budgeted last year. In 2023, the department spent $2,451,658 of their approved budget.

Ouellette recommended decreasing the heating fuel budget by $3,000, or 18.7 percent, from $16,000 to $13,000; the gas budget by $2,500, or 20.8 percent, from $12,000 to $9,500; and the diesel budget by $7,000, or 5.1 percent, from $135,000 to $128,000.

“November and December 2023 were very mild [winter weather] months,” Ouellette said. “If you look at our actuals, we only spent $13,932 on heating fuel, $8,069 for gas and $107,542 on diesel. But if you feel these [proposed budget totals] aren’t enough, I’m open to anything.”

The council approved the Caribou Public Library as one of 17 County locations for Aroostook Agency on Aging’s new Access Points for Aging program. The program will provide an Agency staff member at the library to increase access to Agency services for seniors who have more difficulties traveling to the Presque Isle office, said Ginny Joles, Access Points coordinator.

Councilors appointed Maura Bishop to the Caribou Planning Board and Hugh Kirkpatrick, general manager of the Caribou Utilities District, as a non-voting member of the Caribou Development Committee.

Councilors congratulated Caribou High School basketball player Madelynn Deprey for scoring her 1,000th career point during her junior year.

The next Caribou City Council meeting will be held Monday, Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. at the Caribou Municipal Building, 25 High St.

City Mayor Courtney Boma (left) presents Madelynn Deprey with a certificate for scoring her 1,000th career point on the Caribou High School varsity girls basketball team. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)