By Keith Regan, Contributing Writer
Westborough—After waiting more than a decade for an upgraded station, the police department had to wait a little longer May 12 Saturday as Annual Town Meeting (ATM) voters debated at length a $15 million proposal to renovate the Forbes Municipal Building.
The article seeking to renovate the entire Forbes building, including updating space for the police department in the basement and on the first floor, was debated for well over an hour during the ATM’s afternoon session before voters supported it by a wide margin. After about 40 minutes, a move to cut off debate failed to garner the necessary two-thirds support of the 150 or so voters on hand.
More than a dozen voters asked questions or commented on the article, some pushing back on the need for the project to be completed now, on the heels of building a new fire station and renovating Town Hall.
While few doubted the need for updating the police department space, many expressed concern about the project’s impact on tax bills—the average single family home is expected to pay an extra $120 per year to fund the project.
John Arnold, a member of the Municipal Building Committee, said the building, built in 1925 as a school by the Forbes family and donated to the town, has served as the police station since 1982. The department currently occupies about 9,000 square feet of the building, while a need assessment from 2003 said the department needs at least 21,000 square feet to meet current needs. The department has also been notified its juvenile holding cells do not conform with state laws because they are not separate from adult holding cells.
The nearly 100-year-old building has “long outlived its usefulness,” said Municipal Building Committee member Dexter Boyce.
“Bear in mind the building does not meet the codes of today,” Boyce said.
One sticking point, raised by resident Earl Storey, is the loss of the basement gymnasium space heavily used for Recreation Department programs. Officials said those programs will accommodated in school gyms for the time being.
After voters shot down the move to end debate, Police Chief Alan Gordon rose to speak in favor of the article, noting that his planned retirement date falls nine months before the project would be completed.
“This will last for at least 50 years, which is longer than most of us will be around,” Gordon said, drawing laughter from what had become a tense audience. He also noted that the police department willingly waited for the fire station project to be completed after a proposed combined public safety complex proved unfeasible.
“We waited. Now let’s build what we need and it will last us almost forever,” he said.
Also during the daytime session, about 150 voters spent more than 90 minutes working through the town’s $94.7 million operating budget, which includes $46.3 million for the school department. Many of the questions raised focused on smaller budget line items.
Votes during that part of the meeting were taken with the old paper voting card system, as the town’s relatively new electronic voting system was not operational. Moderator John Arnold said the snafu was expected to be fixed by the time voters reconvened later that evening to continuing working through the meeting warrant.