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Select Board Discusses Possibility of New Police Station Due to Myriad of Issues

The Burlington Police Department may finally get a new home.

The Select Board welcomed Chief Thomas Browne to this week’s meeting to discuss the current station, a building first built in the 1890’s, and the myriad of issues it has.

Browne detailed many problems with the building, starting with mold/mildew and water damage. He said the building regularly has flooding issues, including a recent incident of water coming through a light fixture and onto the desk of a lieutenant at work.

The water issues have also caused mold and mildew to grow in many parts of the station which has caused damage to both the building, police equipment and even evidence.

“The male locker room has experienced such high humidity that we have lost thousands of dollars in uniforms and equipment,” Chief Browne said. “The moisture problem has resulted in every locker growing mold on uniform and equipment.”

During the week of August 6 of this year the department’s main evidence room flooded with water that leaded from the A/C unit located in the ceiling. This has caused a deteriorated flooring section and the growth of mildew, Browne said.

“Due to the overall lack of ventilation in the area and the inability to open windows (due to the demands on the A/C and the need to keep the room secure) the smell in the room is intolerable at times,” he wrote in a memo for the meeting. “As you can imagine, there is also a danger to the physical evidence held in the room, which can range from biological evidence to cash or firearms, and everything in between.”

Chief Browne said that while they have been working with town facilities personnel to address the moisture with dehumidifiers, the problems are persistent.

“If you pass through any area of the police station, you will likely see most air vents are covered in a black substance,” he wrote. “While I acknowledge that there was a mold study done years ago, which found no harmful mold spores, the air quality in the building is unmistakably different than outside or in other buildings. Many department personnel experience allergy-like symptoms as soon as they come into the station.”

Chief Browne said they also have issues with the cell blocks. In total they have ten cells but two are permanently out of service because access to the plumbing is blocked.

“We now use these cells for storage, which is necessary due to the fact that the building, despite its large footprint, is not set up with enough usable space for the complement of personnel we employ,” he said.

Chief Browne said the building also has structural issues and areas of the facility have started to crack and separate beyond normal settling. He said even the newer area of the station, built in 1990-1992, is showing cracks in the cement blocks.

“The floors have large spots of deterioration,” he wrote. “When you step on the floors in these areas they feel unsteady under foot and some even crack as if there are holes under the linoleum.”

There are also issues with the plumbing.

“We had to have an outside contractor in to trace a strong odor of sewer gas and associated sewer fly infestation,” he wrote.

Finally, Browne said the building is not designed for current expected levels of security for police stations. There are windows on the ground level that are not secure, the camera systems do not catch all angles and there are entry points that are difficult to secure.

He also said the floorplan is laid out in such a way to create potential incidents.

“The current floor plan also locates our booking/processing center right into the middle of our general operations area, putting civilians and non-sworn personnel into potentially dangerous situations if a prisoner were to fight,” he said.

Members of the board said they agreed something had to be done and thought that a new station should be a priority for the town.

“I can’t agree more,” Member Bob Hogan said. “Over the years we’ve had conversations and it’s still mind boggling to me that it took 10 years for Fire Station 2 to be built and I hope we can do better this time. There are severe health risks for the officers. Let’s make today day one on this journey.”

“I don’t think any of us are against the idea of a new police station,” Member Nick Priest said. “We’ve seen and/or heard all the stories. Mold, mildew and water issues compromise health and safety, also compromises IT services and evidence. We don’t want that. It’s a no-brainer in my mind.”

A new station would be a multi-year project with an estimated cost of about $30 million, which Town Meeting would have to approve. Town Administrator Paul Sagarino said the project could fit into the town’s bond schedules to reduce the impact on taxpayers.