City votes to buy land for new police station

City leaders voted last week to borrow $4.5 million to buy land on the Boston Post Road for a new police station.

The land totals approximately six acres at 130-150 Boston Post Road, and is roughly across the street from the Planet Fitness gym and Bobettes.

A police station building committee started its mission with an eye on determining if the existing station should be expanded or if a new headquarters should be built elsewhere. The current police station was built in 1978 at 430 Boston Post Road, and Mayor Ben Blake has said that it was obsolete on day one.

“Over the past 35 years, all available space has been utilized to the point where we are using external storage space for recovered property as well as off-site space for task force and special operation initiatives,” according to a proposal included in last year’s capital improvement plan.

Blake said an expanded police station has been in the city’s capital improvement plan since 1998.

Police Chief Keith Mello also said the current police station is too small.

He said evidence is not stored in a proper evidence room because of lack of space. When there is sensitive evidence, it is put in a conference room and crime scene tape placed across the door. If the tape hasn’t been broken by morning, the officers know their evidence is still admissible in court, Mello said.

Today there are more female officers than in the past, there is a computer forensics area in need of a lab, and there is a juvenile justice bill that requires juveniles be held separately from adults — issues that make the current building obsolete.

“Law enforcement has become more sophisticated,” the chief said.

The current building has a number of mechanical problems. Those could be fixed, but since more space is needed than the current land will allow, people involved in the process determined it made more sense to build new. The current police station is located on 2.73 acres, according to city records.

Mello said he started looking for a new site when he became chief 12 years ago, and even then he thought the best location would be the land that the aldermen have now voted to purchase.

Back then, the Boston Post Road property was not for sale. “Then this land becomes available and I see it as such an opportunity for Milford,” Mello said.

The site is close enough to the current station that the communication tower will not have to be moved, and that would have cost $1.5 million, city officials said.

City officials plan to sell the current property for about $3.5 million, which would cover a large chunk of the $4.1 million for the new site.

Alderman Anthony Giannattasio said he thought the purchase was wise.

“We’ve exhausted every other alternative,” he said. “ It would cost us more to operate temporarily than it’s worth doing. We’d have to take it apart and move departments across town to renovate the existing building, and we still wouldn’t meet the needs assessment.”

Responding to questions from Alderman Ray Vitali, Mello said there are no projected costs yet to build a new station. He said one nearby town spent about $40 million on a new police station, but he thinks that was “on the high side.”

The current station is 43,000 square feet, and of that 38,000 is usable. The chief said the new station will be between 62,000 and 66,000 square feet.

Alderman Jeremy Grant asked if residential neighbors on Erna Avenue might be bothered by the proximity of the new station. But Mello said that the station is near houses now, and that the Erna Avenue area, while having some homes, is largely commercial.

“I’d like to think the police department is a pretty good neighbor,” Mello added.

According to the city assessor’s office, Jordan Realty owns the property that the city voted to purchase. The 130 Boston Post Road portion is appraised at $1.2 million; 143 Boston Post Road, with a building constructed in 1947, is appraised at $825,000, and 150 Boston Post Road, with a car wash on the property, is appraised at $2.3 million. The land was previously owned by Beard Sand and Gravel.

Mello said a new police station should last well into the future.

“You’ll never have to build another facility again,” the chief said.