New panel to look at Public Safety Building

Sep 11, 2018 by

Published in the September 11, 2018 edition.

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — A new committee will look at the Public Safety Building with an eye toward addressing the ongoing space and structural needs of the 15-year-old building. Last night, the Town Council voted to create a new 17-member “Public Safety Building Re-Assessment Committee.”

Annual Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly last May to approve an $8 million rehab of the police side of the Public Safety Building, after a months-long needs assessment study found that there was not enough space to meet the Police Department’s current or future needs. Problems were also identified that were blamed on construction from a previous Public Safety Building project.

The assessment also found that building’s mechanical equipment, the heating, air conditioning, ventilation and exhaust systems were in “fair” condition and, along with boilers and pumps, were approaching the end of their serviceable life.

Another major concern was the location of dispatch on the second floor, leaving the lobby manned only a few hours a day by the public records officer.

The Town Council, Finance Committee and the Permanent Building Committee all unanimously supported the project.

But a group of citizens collected the needed 200 signatures to force a townwide ballot and the project was defeated by 76 votes in a Special Election on June 26.

Town Councilor Edward Dombroski brought forward the proposal for a new committee last night. He said that he had conferred with Police Chief Rick Smith and Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio in coming up with a proposal for the composition of the Public Safety Building Re-Assessment Committee.

“The issues (at the Public Safety Building) remain.” He said. “We have needs being unmet that need to be met.” He said that town officials needed to learn from those who supported and those who opposed the last project and come up with a way to “make this a better project going forward.”

Dombroski proposed a 15-member committee with the following composition: Police Chief Rick Smith; Fire Chief Michael Sullivan; Deputy Police Chief Craig Callabrese; two Permanent Building Committee (PBC) members, including Chairman Joseph Bertrand; two Finance Committee members; DPW Director Richard Stinson; one Fire Captain; three members of the public (to be advertised and appointed by the Town Council); and two members of the Town Council, including Dombroski, (who is the liaison to the Police Department) as chair of the committee.

But, while there was agreement that a committee larger than 15 would be unwieldy, there was disagreement on the composition of the committee.

Town Councilor Mehreen Butt wanted to see representation from social services like the Wakefield Alliance Against Violence (WAAV), WAKE-UP (drug abuse prevention) and the Health Department. She argued that there was no need for two representatives each from the PBC and the FinCom.

Dombroski agreed that the social services were an important part of 21st century policing, and acknowledged that their input would be crucial. He suggested that Butt could be the second Town Council member and represent those interests.

But Dombroski did not want to eliminate one of the members from the FinCom. He noted that the concerns about the previous Public Safety Building rehab proposal were not related to social service provisions and much more focused on finances. Since it was a building issue, he also didn’t want to cut back on Permanent Building Committee representation.

He said that he saw the new committee more as ambassadors that could seek input from all sectors of the community.

Chief Smith said that he was the first to advocate for the partnership of social services and law enforcement. But he said that there also needed to be a focus on the traditional work of police in terms of emergency response and protecting public safety. He also questioned making representatives of the social services sit through meetings that might have little to do with their areas of expertise. He suggested keeping the list at 15, but letting social service groups know that their input would be solicited.

Julie Smith-Galvin noted that 12 of the 15 members would be people who were closely involved with the last plan. She wondered if they would be capable of bringing “fresh ideas” to the new committee.

Ann Santos agreed that the social services should be involved, but noted that the committee could not be too large. She suggested one member to represent those interests. The name of Catherine Dhingra, the town’s Drug Abuse Prevention Coordinator, was suggested.

After more discussion, there was a motion to table the matter and ask Dombroski to tweak the membership of the committee. That motion carried, with Dombroski and Paul DiNocco opposed.

But Maio offered a suggestion to increase the membership by two, making it a 17-member committee, adding a representative from WAAV and and one from WAKE-UP. He further suggested removing the second Town Council member and adding a representative from the Health Department.

Chief Smith suggested removing the Fire Captain from the committee and replacing that slot with the Emergency Management Director.

Dombroski said that he was OK with anything that would move the process forward. After further discussion, Dombroski moved to create a 17-member committee along the lines suggested by Maio and Chief Smith. That motion carried 6-0.

Town Councilor Ann Santos said that she hoped that those who vehemently opposed the last Public Safety building rehab proposal would apply for the three “public-at-large” positions on the committee.

“Don’t just stand on the sidelines and lob bombs,” she said. “Work with us.”

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