I wanted to give you a number of updates regarding our public safety departments, and the public safety building in particular.
First, many of you have probably had the opportunity to meet our interim Chief of Police, Vincent Alfano. Since his appointment as interim Chief, Vin has become a fixture in the community and has been a big proponent of addressing neighborhood issues, traffic enforcement, and a variety of other law enforcement-related items. Based on his community and departmental leadership, I have asked Chief Alfano if he would be willing to come out of retirement to serve as our permanent Chief of Police. I am pleased to say that he has accepted, and therefore I have appointed Vincent Alfano as our new Chief of Police last night. I want to thank him and his wife Christine for their willingness to put their retirement on hold for this important role.
Regarding the Public Safety building, I unfortunately have less positive news. Recent cost estimates for the new building have come in higher than projected. Pending our targeted July 2020 construction start date, a Public Safety Building at 44,000 square feet, and its related “soft costs” is anticipated to cost $29,000,000 as opposed to the $25,000,000 originally anticipated. Supply and demand, and policy developments such as international steel tariffs, are the root cause of this increase. More importantly, annual cost escalators have jumped from approximately 3% per year to 7.5% per year, and it is only projected to get higher as time goes on for the foreseeable future.
The most disappointing news I must share with you is larger in magnitude. In June, we came to find out that funding for our new Public Safety Building was not included in the Governor’s Capital Plan for this coming year, (in fact no municipal public safety projects were included). This was not surprising and was in fact expected, as design and engineering for the building has not been completed (that is currently in process) and this was generally considered a prerequisite for any state construction funding for our project to be released. But more importantly, at this point both the timing of the release and amount of any funding released is unclear. The fact is that the release of these funds are largely outside of our control. Ultimately the Governor must include it in the appropriate capital plan. Last fall we felt highly confident that our combined state and local efforts would be successful in getting this funding released in the near future. That confidence was reflected in the message that we put out. In hindsight this confidence, and the resulting message, was premature on my part.
Where exactly does that leave us? No one can dispute the dire need for a new facility. Combined with the aforementioned rapid cost escalations, it means that construction still needs to commence in July 2020. It makes the most sense from an operational standpoint and also a cost efficiency standpoint. But the uncertainty of it being included in capital plans in the near future mean Ashland will be responsible for funding the project - at least initially - until and if other funding comes through. And the project cost means that we will need to fund this at least partially through a debt exclusion, likely anticipated to be this time next year if we are going to take advantage of the next construction season. Although this is twelve months away, it is important that we put the notice out now.
We are committed to putting together a plan ensuring that through cost saving measures, non-taxpayer revenue enhancements, and hopefully other state and federal funding, we will be able to minimize the impact to Ashland taxpayers. I am positive that Senator Spilka and her staff will continue to strongly advocate on our behalf to get funding from the bond bill released. If they are successful this funding of course would be applied strictly for the public safety building, reducing the impact to Ashland’s taxpayers.
I can’t reinforce enough that while the funding mechanism for the building has to change, the need for the building has not diminished. Therefore we are moving forward with a target construction start date of July 2020. The Select Board, Public Safety Building Committee, Town Management, and our Fire and Police departments are united in both message and commitment to start building this facility next year. The Ashland community in general, and our Public Safety first responders in particular, deserve to have a safe, efficient, and professional work environment. We know that this sentiment is echoed throughout the Ashland community as well, and are grateful.
And finally, not all of the news is bad: Through continuing negotiations with Fafard Real Estate, we have been able to secure an additional 5 acres of land on the property, giving us flexibility for site work related to the construction of the Public Safety Building, and potentially using the property for other purposes as well. This brings the total acreage donated to close to 10 acres. With land values in Ashland continually rising, this acquisition is a true benefit to both the project and the community.
Writing this has not been easy. Disappointing news never is. We thought our road to completion of this much needed project would be less steep. However, we are all committed to seeing this project through, and delivering a facility that will provide decades of service to our community. With your understanding and support, and the hard work and dedication of all involved in this project, this building will most certainly become a reality that Ashland will be proud of.