By Katina Caraganis
ASHBY -- As the police station -- a double-wide trailer behind Town Hall -- continues to deteriorate, selectmen ponder how they can build a new station, including employing Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School students to cut down on labor costs.
The idea was first suggested by Selectman Steve Ingerson at last week's joint meeting with the Finance Committee.
Ingerson is proposing that the station potentially be built on the existing site of the station, due in large part because the town owns the property.
Noting that labor costs are two or three times the cost of materials, Ingerson said the board must think outside the box to get a new station.
The trailer was a temporary solution more than two decades ago, he said.
The roof needs drastic repairs, the air quality in the building is poor, and mold is present.
"(Monty Tech students) could do everything for us and we wouldn't have to hire an outside person. Insulation, wiring, everything. There is nothing we would be responsible for except materials," he said. "It provides us a unique opportunity. ... we wind up with an affordable option."
Ingerson, who owns his own machine shop and often brings students from Monty Tech in to work with him, said it's a win-win for both sides.
He said when he touched base with the school, he was told there was a two-year waiting list, so it's something he wants to see get off the ground sooner rather than later.
He said the town would purchase the materials and supply the blueprints, and the students, along with their teachers, would build the project.
"You stay away from prevailing wage by having Monty Tech do it. They can build whatever you want," he said.
Over the years, town leaders have weighed multiple proposals and studies on the best way to replace the building.
In 2011, Rene Rainville of Ashby and DLR Realty Trust proposed building two developments, including a new police station, on a piece of property he bought in 2007 next to the town hall and police station.
The structure closest to Main Street, which has been built but is not yet occupied, is a 7,556-square-foot market building with leaseable space. The plan is to include 1,939 square feet for office use, 1,755 square feet for a farmer's market, 782 square feet for a coffee shop and 1,790 square feet for a 28-seat-restaurant.
The second building, projected to be 6,760 square feet, could be a potential new police station.
Rainville previously said the second building, which has not been built yet, was being proposed as more of a professional building but could be built as a police station.
Rainville would likely keep ownership of the building and lease it to the town.
Ingerson, who was not on the board when that idea was first proposed, said leasing such an important building is not something he would ever approve.
"The town should not be paying rent on one of its municipal required buildings. The town should be owning that building," he said.
Other options have been looked at to lessen the impact on the building, including talking with Ashburnham selectmen last year to regionalize dispatch services.
It was projected by both boards that there would be significant cost savings, especially to Ashby, because their dispatchers would be moving to Ashburnham and the equipment upgrades would be funded through Ashburnham.
The project never happened because of concerns about the safety of officers and data not transferring properly between departments.
A police-regionalization committee was formed in 2010 to look at the possibility of the Ashby and Townsend departments joining forces.
The committee was formed shortly after the Department of Revenue issued a Police and Communications Regionalization Analysis in March that year. According to the DOR report, Ashby would realize a cost savings of $82,947.
The committee eventually stalled, and at the time Police Chief Ed Drew said while there were positives with every solution, moving to Townsend's station would mean a loss of Ashby dispatchers.
It would also have potentially done away with the midnight to 8 a.m. patrol in Ashby.
The Townsend police station is on Route 13, about 8 miles from Ashby's police station.
Selectman Mike McCallum said something needs to be done, and the sooner the better.
"I think it's something that should be looked into to see if it's a legitimate possibility, sure. When I was a selectmen before, I was trying to get action on the police station. That was six or eight years ago. The police station is important," he said.
There are options, he said.
"What we know is the police station is unsuitable and the voters don't want to pay $3 million for a new station, and they want to have local dispatchers and police," he said. "We'd have to look around and think about it. The town does own land up near the fire station, and it owns land where the current town hall and police station is on. The town owns little pieces here and there."
McCallum believes the town should try to stay away from asking for an override or debt-exclusion to fund the project.
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