In the next few weeks, we plan to report on details of the implications, design, size and funding for the new police station. Today, we consolidate and update previous reporting (from our March 26 and April 2 news roundups) to summarize the big picture of where the project stands. If you have questions about the new police station and debt exclusion that you’d like us to look into over the next few weeks, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Next Tuesday, May 17, is the last day to register to vote in the June 6 debt exclusion special election to authorize tax increases to fund a $32.4 million new police station. The Town Clerk’s office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. “to facilitate this registration.”
- What’s a debt exclusion? “Appropriating $32.4 million,” in practice, will mean borrowing money to finance the police station; Lexington will need to raise property taxes until any such borrowing is repaid, which can only be done with the approval of voters. This is called a debt exclusion because the amount of the debt to finance the police station is excluded from the limit of Proposition 2 ½ which normally caps how much the tax levy can be raised. The cost to taxpayers will peak when the debt is first issued; for residents owning homes of average value, the current projected cost is $258 in the first year, which is estimated to decrease over time to $149 in the 20th year. The Town now offers a calculator residents can use to figure the personal cost to them in the first year.
- Strong support for the project at Spring Town Meeting: Article 2 of 2022-1 Special Town Meeting, appropriating $32.4 million for design and construction of a new police station, passed near-unanimously, with 174 votes in favor, 1 against and 6 abstentions (it required a 2/3 majority to pass). The Select Board, Appropriation Committee and Capital Expenditures Committee also all unanimously supported the project. “Speaking as a Town Meeting Member, I know that we have veto power over major capital projects, so I expect the Select Board and senior Town staff to present projects that satisfy Town Meeting’s expectations as best they can,” Appropriation Committee Chair and Town Meeting Member Glenn Parker (P3) wrote in an email to LexObserver. “The strong support for the Police Station from Town Meeting is a result of that working relationship.” This vote was the culmination of a much longer process “that required Town Meeting’s participation and approval at several points along the way,” he added. “The construction cost for a big project can be a hard pill to swallow, but the plans for the new Police Station are based on modern best practices coupled with a year of community feedback.”
- Why $32.4M? The new police station is a long time coming: Donham and Sweeney Architects conducted a study in 2011 which concluded that the current police station does not meet the needs of a modern police force, and Special Town Meeting appropriated funding to assess the feasibility of siting, constructing and equipping a new police station to meet modern needs back in 2016, according to the Select Board’s statement about Article 2. A presentation at Annual Town Meeting in 2018 estimated that the new police station would cost about $25.4 million; the estimated costs of subsequent design iterations fluctuated, but had returned to this number by spring of 2020. Following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the project was put on hold for just over a year to allow for community conversations about race, social justice and policing. The pandemic has dramatically driven up construction and labor costs since the $25.4 million estimate; furthermore, community input from those conversations led to project changes resulting in almost 4,000 square feet being added to the new station design, from designated space for social and mental health workers to collaborate with officers, to a larger lobby, to more changing rooms. These factors contributed to the roughly $7 million cost increase. While the $32.4 million voted by Town Meeting is finalized, a value engineering process to find targeted ways to reduce the cost of the project is ongoing; the Permanent Building Committee (PBC) discussed ways to scale back the cost in late March, and expressed support for about $725,000 in savings from changes to the project.
- How the police station moved forward last fall: At Special Town Meeting last fall, Town Meeting approved other funding related to the new police station in two parts: 1) Additional funding for the design, engineering and architectural services of the new police station (Article 5a: $255,000), and 2) funding for the renovation of 173 Bedford St. to serve as the temporary police station during construction of the permanent station (Article 5b: $615,000). Article 5a passed unanimously (with three abstentions), while Article 5b passed with 87.9% votes in support.
- Solar-ready, but the specific solar design is a decision for later: The new Police Station will be solar-ready – but “work is continuing to find an appropriate solar design which is satisfactory to all stakeholders, including the Historic Districts Commission,” according to the Select Board’s statement in support of Article 2. (The police station is located in one of the town’s Historic Districts.) On March 21, the Select Board voted to support bringing a solar project “satisfactory to the stakeholders” to a future Town Meeting, with Fall Town Meeting 2022 as the goal; board members hope that the solar project will be constructed at the same time as the police station “to maximize efficiencies with the site contractor.”
- A renewed emphasis on guaranteeing space for social and mental health workers: Since a Lexington resident with mental health issues was killed by a Lexington police officer in February, multiple community members have emphasized the importance of ensuring that designated space for social and mental health workers is included in the new building. Police Chief Michael McLean has repeatedly and strongly endorsed the importance of including this space in the building; for instance, at the Permanent Building Committee meeting March 24, he explained that he does not view cutting the space for socio-emotional services as an acceptable way to reduce the project’s cost. The PBC and the Department of Public Facilities (DPF) agreed with McLean; no one is pushing to remove this space from the design – rather, they review all possible options for cost cuts as part of the thorough value engineering process. McLean also favors keeping a de-escalation room, whose uses would include running simulations for de-escalation training. The small community group Lexington Residents Reimagining Policing (LRRPS) has called on the Town to follow the “excellent first step” of the planned space with “creat[ing] a specific plan for integrating mental health professionals into the process of handling emergency calls” in a letter sent to Town Meeting Members in February. Along similar lines, in a Commission on Disability meeting in March, McLean explained that while he is very satisfied with and grateful for the LPD partnership with the Town’s Human Services Department, he would like ”someone embedded who works for the Town – and more importantly, who works at and for the police station.”