NORTH ADAMS — The problem of the city’s aging Police Department building has a solution, at least a temporary one.
Using American Rescue Plan Act funds, the department is renting a new temporary space in early 2023, Mayor Jennifer Macksey announced at a City Council meeting on Tuesday night. For about $9,000 a month under a two-year lease, the city is renting a building on Holden Street that formerly housed a juvenile court.
“This is the first step in a long-term plan to improve our Police Department,” Macksey said. “The Police Department is in dire disrepair. It’s not handicap accessible. And the building is falling down around us every day faster and faster.”
Addressing the building on American Legion Drive was a key piece of Mackey’s campaign when she ran for mayor last year.
Built in 1955, the building is not accessible, and a complaint led to a settlement between the city and Department of Justice in 2012. The city was fined $8,150 last year by the state’s Architectural Access Board for an overdue plan to address accessibility issues. It’s had issues with discolored water, concerns about asbestos and basement heat that broke for more than a month in 2021.
The upcoming temporary move was welcome news to councilors.
The current building is “a mess,” Councilor Peter Oleskiewicz said, pointing to past problems with heat and water. “Even our detainees — the conditions they have are terrible and they have rights as well,” he said.
The state Department of Public Health has flagged health and safety violations in the cells. And last fall when The Eagle toured, there was no source of drinking water in the cells.
City Council President Lisa Blackmer was happy about the move, but seemed frustrated that the council did not know sooner.
“You could have sent us an email with what was going in,” she said. “That would have been greatly appreciated. ... I did get several calls from councilors and public who heard about it.”
The long-term home for the department is not yet decided; it’s a question Macksey said she has gotten often. The city will likely lease the Holden Street building for several years, she said.
“We will continue to look at city-owned property, but the realistic part is we probably will need to purchase property,” Macksey said. The city plans to launch a request for proposals for design services for a building next year.
Several years ago, the state Legislature authorized the governor to give the city $1.2 million to put toward engineering, design and siting of a public safety facility, but funds have not been released.
The Police Department plans to move in February or March, and how and when the city’s dispatch service, also housed in the current police building, would move is still being discussed, Macksey said. The aging dispatch equipment is complicating matters, she said.
“It literally is hanging on by duct tape and Band-aids and it will not survive a move,” she said. “So pay now or pay later; that’s what we are trying to address.”