Despite ‘sticker shock,’ Concord City Council moves forward on new police station plan

The Concord Group Insurance Companies building is now empty as the corporate headquarters has moved to Bedford.

The Concord Group Insurance Companies building is now empty as the corporate headquarters has moved to Bedford. Monitor file

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 04-09-2024 5:07 PM

Modified: 04-09-2024 7:39 PM


Concord City Councilors unanimously voted to follow through on the $4.1 million property purchase for relocating police headquarters Monday, even if the $41.5 million proposal to create the station gave them “sticker shock.”

“I was glad that I’m sitting down when I looked at projections for the amount of tax increase,” said Ward One Councilor Brent Todd.

If the city simultaneously pursued the expansion and renovation of the former Concord Group Insurance building for the new police headquarters and folded the existing station into the city hall complex on Green Street, taxpayers would be on the hook to repay $58,139,500 in bonds.

If the value of property citywide held constant, that would add $3.17 to the city tax rate by 2030, according to a presentation from the city manager’s office. For a home worth $350,000 that would mean an extra $1,595 in taxes in the first five years of the project in addition to any other annual spending increases in the city.

Given how vocal residents have been about the rising tax burden in the city, Todd stated a desire to “defray” the costs of this project. At the same time, he also felt that his constituents supported an investment in the police department.

“The public, I think, really does want us to invest in the police department,” he said. “I’m afraid that this is the cost of doing that.”

Several councilors seconded Todd’s outlook, supporting the city’s move to secure the property along North State Street but emphasizing that they had questions and reservations about the proposed costs.

“I think it’s very important that we snag this property now,” At-large Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said. “I just want to assure the community that we will continue to have multiple conversations about what a new police department at that location might look like.”

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The Council approved the $4.1 million purchase and sale agreement of the former Concord Group office building with frontage on North State Street in December pending inspections on the property. While the council’s decision Monday was limited to whether or not to acquire the property in a central location of the city, they reviewed publicly for the first time the future options and cost projections for the new property and the existing police station beside City Hall. With those options and inspection results in hand, they voted to finalize the sale.

“The real question it comes back to is, do we want to do a new police station?” City Manager Tom Aspell said of the land purchase. “To me the answer is yes: you need it, we owe it to the community for the next forty years, and this is the best economical and location that we can come up with today — and I think that we’re going to come up with for the next dozen years.”

The perks of the new property, Deputy City Manager for Development Matt Walsh outlined, are its location a few doors down from Concord Fire Department Headquarters with easy access to both downtown and major city traffic arteries, including the interstate.

Walsh’s report on the property recommended the city renovate and expand the existing 1957 mid-century building. Including the land, this is figured to cost $46,665,000, according to Walsh’s report. Of that, $14.3 million would go towards an addition of roughly 13,000 square feet onto the existing 39,000-square-foot building.

The city projects that, in 20 years, Concord Police will have 113 officers and receive more than 82,000 calls for service each year. It currently has 90 officer positions when fully staffed and had around 48,000 calls last year. With this claimed growth, the department would need roughly 44,000 square feet, according to Walsh’s report. It currently has about half that at the existing station.

Chief Bradley Osgood said the current space constraints hurt the department’s morale and hinder its ability to be accredited. Evidence is stored in more than 10 different places in the building, he said, and the long intake path for detainees puts others in the building at risk.

The new station with its proposed additions would top 52,000 square feet. It also would house the city prosecutor’s office which, along with another city department, currently rents 6,000 square feet of office space.

The existing police station is part of a campus of city buildings on Green Street that includes City Hall and council chambers that Walsh’s presentation proposed be reconfigured.

“I struggle to think of a department at the campus that frankly doesn’t have a space need problem, and by putting another 21 or 22,000 square feet into play, I think there’s a real opportunity to address those needs,” he said. The move also offered the chance to modernize and make more accessible key city services, including the clerk’s office.

Walsh estimated that renovating the police station for this purpose would add about $10.9 million to the full project — though the council is expected to develop a master plan for City Hall campus, a $250,000 expense.

Despite their unified support of buying the land, councilors’ comments Monday held the door open for the project to be scaled back or delayed given its costs. Ward 5 Councilor Stacey Brown recused herself from the discussion and vote because her husband is a city police officer.

“I appreciate the opportunity to mothball in case we need to set it aside for a time which is more appropriate, maybe construction comes down,” Ward 3 Councilor Jennifer Kretovic said. “But acquiring the property now is important.”

At-large Councilor Nathan Fennessey indicated in questions to the city manager that he’s open to the current police station being sold to buoy the expense of a new one.

Meanwhile, other major capital projects on city buildings are waiting in the wings.

Plans for a $10.4 million rebuild of the Beaver Meadow Golf Course clubhouse were sent back to a committee at the end of last year. In January, Mayor Byron Champlin asked the committee to explore plans and costs of more options for clubhouse improvements, including renovation, renovation with an addition and a scaled-back rebuild. The committee has not met since because city staff is still working with project engineers on developing those options, according to Fennessey, who chairs the committee.

A major rehabilitation of Memorial Field slated in city plans for next year does not yet have a final cost estimate, but preliminary numbers put it well into seven figures.

Councilors also heard a presentation from members of the Concord Public Library Foundation Monday. The city’s capital improvement plans anticipate more than $23 million for a library update and expansion in 2027 and 2028.

On the school side, the Concord School District is planning to build a new middle school on the city’s east side — school board members have  asserted that the $175 million cost estimate will come down, and an updated number as designs are drawn up is expected in June.