AUGUSTA — The builders of Augusta’s new $20.5 million police station aim to create a structure that can accommodate the demands of law enforcement for decades to come, without it looking at odds with other government buildings constructed in the city more than a century ago.
Sitting on a corner across from both Augusta City Center and the old, historic, city hall building — which itself served as the police station 25 years ago — the new police station features limestone and granite exterior walls meant to help it fit in with the many granite buildings in the state capital.
Inside those thick walls a custom-built, modern police station is taking shape.
“This building is designed for growth, because what policing is in 2024, might not be what it is in 2042,” Nick Gaddar, senior project manager for Landry/French Construction, said Tuesday while giving a tour of the under-construction building. Landry/French Construction is the general contractor for the project.
The station, located at 7 Willow St., is on pace to come in under its voter-approved $20.5 million budget, which Gaddar said is a fairly unique feat in a time of labor shortages and rising materials costs.
It will be finished a couple months later than initially projected, though, with officials expecting it to be ready for occupancy around April 1 instead of in February. Construction began in November 2022.
The new, 25,000-square-foot building features state-of-the-art evidence storage areas and an evidence laboratory, a communications area with room for five dispatchers to work, a dedicated space where officials can meet with people with mental health problems and heightened security measures including heavy duty bollards across the entrance, a security fence around the entire property, a concrete-walled gun and ammunition storage area, and bullet-resistant walls and windows.
The building also has rooftop solar panels that will feed electricity into the power grid, helping the city offset its electricity bills.
It’s an upgrade from the former Naval reserve building on Union Street, where the city’s police department is currently housed. That building, which Augusta Police moved into more than two decades ago, has a slew of problems ranging from a leaky roof and inadequate heat to code violations and security issues stemming from a lack of separation between public, semipublic and restricted areas.
City officials said in 2019 it would cost more to renovate it than to build a new one.
The new building is at the site of an old Hannaford supermarket, where the ground has been raised to protect against flooding and meet standards for public safety buildings that need to be able to function in an emergency.
The 3 feet of height added to the site got it up above the 500-year floodplain, a requirement to build there meant to ensure the building could serve as a command post even during extreme flooding.
A 500-year flood has a 1 in 500 chance of happening in a given year.
The 1987 flood that crested the Kennebec River on both sides was a 100-year flood, meaning there was a 1 in a 100 chance of it happening in any year.
Kennebec River floodwaters from two recent flooding events did not get close to the building, not reaching past Willow Street, which runs between it and the river. Gaddar said the building suffered no ill effects from those two recent storms, other than losing electricity for a couple of hours.
Gaddar said construction took a bit longer than expected in part due to the difficulty in getting some supplies in for the job, especially electrical parts for a generator. Between 90% and 95% of the roughly 300 workers or business owners who’ve been on the job are from Maine, he noted.
“Keeping the work local, that’s a point of pride with a public building like this,” he said.
Those workers included several from Augusta-based Oakes & Parkhurst Glass who, Tuesday, were framing up what Gaddar describes as the crown jewel of the project: a two-story glass public entryway with views of the state Capitol building across the Kennebec River.
Among the first major jobs on the project was moving a massive, 42-inch sewer line that ran right through the site of the building.
Gaddar said a new pipe was installed and they were able to work with Greater Augusta Utilities District to switch over from the old pipe to the new without any disruption in sewer services.
Another seamless switchover will need to take place when the new dispatch center goes online, as 911 and other calls will have to be switched from the current station to the new one without interruption.