City officials say the aging police station and courthouse building on Main Street needs more work than just replacing the windows.
The cost to determine the full scope of work needed to renovate the interior of the building has increased from $675,000 up to $1.1 million, officials told the City Council at a public hearing last week.
The council heard a rough estimate for the final project of $15 million from Chief Financial Officer John Dunn, though what the full scope of work might entail and final cost needs more study, he said.
“We are ready to move forward. This will take us to the next step,” Dunn said.
After the public hearing on May 10, the council voted 7-2 to increase the loan authorization for the study, which dates to April 2018. Councilor-at-Large James O’Hara and Ward 2 Councilor Tracy O’Neil voted ‘no.’
“I can’t support this tonight, I don’t have enough information,” said O’Hara, adding that while he understands the building’s deficiencies and supports the Police Department and the need for a new station, he felt he didn’t get the answers he was looking for from city officials about what work needs to be done.
“It’s a lot of money for the taxpayers and I think they deserve to have a full explanation,” he said.
Ward 2 Councilor Tracy O’Neil said she, too, knows the complex needs to be fixed, but she couldn’t justify the steep increase in cost for more design work.
Dunn outlined the need for the increase, saying both the police station and courthouse are in need of extensive renovations and they will have to be evacuated during the work.
He said officials originally anticipated it was just going to be “a very small project” for new windows. “(But) we quickly discovered there are a huge amount of things that need to be done to the station.”
The additional money will give the city a scope of services and a reasonable budget to renovate the building’s interior, paying for additional owner’s project management, design services, and pre-construction services by the construction manager at risk, Dunn said.
“What will come out of this is enough information for us to make a decision on whether we want to move forward,” he said.
“Mr. Dunn, I just want to make sure this is all interior work, right? There’s nothing that’s going to be done on the outside to make it remotely more attractive as a building,” said Councilor-at-Large Jason Grow, remarking about the stark brick exterior of the complex, which cost $1.2 million to build and which the department moved into in 1973, according to the Police Department’s website.
“I can’t admit to that, maybe there is something that might make it more attractive,” Dunn said.
Once the city started exploring what needed to be done, ADA compliance and other things cropped up, he noted.
“And to be truthful, we are really at a position where, you know, renovation of the building is going to be $15 million, and that is not out of the league of where other renovations of police stations have been,” Dunn said.
“There are a lot of things Chief (Ed) Conley needs to do in terms of how the building is laid out, in terms of how we have locker rooms for men and females and we don’t have those now,” he added. “So these are things that we are going to have to do.”
Dunn also noted that the renovations need to be done to keep Gloucester District Court downtown.
“We need to make sure the courthouse works well, that it’s up-to-date,” he said. “In fact, we do have a promise from the state for $2 million to basically subsidize those improvements to the courthouse and we are looking forward to realizing exactly what that means, but we don’t know it yet.”
O’Neil asked if the city had spent the original appropriation and Dunn said there was very little left.
“The design firm (Dore & Whittier) came in and basically said that, ‘You know, your solution to the project is not windows and a couple of air conditioners. Your solution to the building is much, much, much more complicated than that,’” Dunn said.
O’Neil also wanted to know why that money did not give the city the full scope of the project.
Chief Administrative Officer Jill Cahill explained there are different levels of design work, and the money covered the initial scope and design, but the building committee needs to get engineering documents and final design so the project can go out to bid, as well as bring on the construction manager at risk.
Ward 1 Councilor Scott Memhard said the council’s Budget and Finance Committee voted 3-0 to recommend the increase to the loan order.
“It’s incredibly important for our community as a whole to be able to offer this district court within Gloucester,” Memhard said, “and I think that working with the state, making these renovations is key toward maintaining that level of service.”
Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or [email protected]