Town Meeting Approves Police Station Upgrades

Coalition for Prevention and Support Space at Police Department

Town Moderator Alan Foulds

Reading, MA — By a vote of 121-40-4, Town Meeting approved $1.5 million of debt authorization for changes to the Reading Police Station on Monday. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur began his explanation of the request by noting that the police station is twenty-three years old and has never had any substantial renovations. The funds will be used for two different projects in the building. The first is the creation of a training room and emergency management space in what is known as the “expansion room.” This room was never completed when the building was constructed in 1998 due to budget concerns. It is on the second floor, in the secure portion of the building, and is a completely unfinished space.

The project’s second phase would be to convert the current public meeting room into office space for the Coalition for Prevention and Support and the newly organized Health Department. The upgrade would allow the staff of these departments to have private offices and other private meeting space in a publicly accessible portion of the building, right off the main entrance lobby. Currently, Coalition staff share an office in the secure portion of the police station, with little privacy. Health Department staff all share one room of Town Hall, again with no space for private conversations or phone calls. LeLacheur explained that the space would also allow easier staff coordination and collaboration amongst the departments and with law enforcement, when necessary. The estimated completion of the project would be in the summer of 2022.

Town Meeting member Nancy Docktor, while in favor of the article’s intent, questioned the lack of a public forum to discuss community priorities before the space was designed of the space. She also questioned the lack of a separate entrance to the office space for those with substance abuse or other concerns who may feel uncomfortable coming into the Police Station.

Erica McNamara, Director Coalition for Prevention & Support

Coalition Director Erica McNamara shared that the Coalition would continue to accommodate those who did not feel they could come to the police station while highlighting the advantages of private offices and shared space with the health department. LeLacheur indicated  that a separate entrance would take away from office space and create a security concern. He continued to explain that the current plan is “the most cost-effective way to integrate the staff.” LeLacheur also highlighted that the plans did go through a public process with the Finance Committee.

Town Meeting Member John Sasso

Town Meeting member John Sasso questioned why only two Select Board members voted to support the project, while three abstained. Select Board member Mark Dockser shared that he did not have enough information at the time to make a recommendation and suggested the article be postponed until April Town Meeting. Select Board member Anne Landry stated that the lack of a community process to prioritize capital concerns was the reason for her abstention. However, she stated that she planned to support the article at Town Meeting. Select Board member Karen Herrick agreed, “Process, priority, and funding,” Herrick explained.

Town Meeting member John Lippitt questioned why the two projects were tied together. LeLacheur explained that part of the reason was economies of scale in terms of pricing. He also stated that using the current meeting room as office space would precipitate the need for the training space. He continued to share that training space is critical in an era of police reform.

Town Meeting member Barry Berman shared his belief that the community priority had already been vetted when Town Meeting approved a mental health position during the budget process. Town Meeting member Linda Snow Dockser agreed, “We did the mental health position a year before requested, thus the need for this request.” Snow Dockser suggested that she did question the timing of the request at a Special Town Meeting. LeLachuer then offered that office space is the “logical next step to launch a Health Department that is different” as Town Meeting had already approved.

Kerry Dunnell from the Board of Health urged passage of the article ,highlighting the need for the public health nurses to access space for private conversations and put “our best foot forward” as the board searches for a Health Department director.

Town Meeting also voted 112-16 to amend the capital plan and 155-3 to amend the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. The budget changes were all shifting expenditures between line items and did not affect the bottom line.

Town Meeting adjourned at 10:35 pm and will reconvene on Thursday, October 21.

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