ELLSWORTH, Maine — The City Council on Monday approved a nearly $4 million plan to move the local police department from its cramped quarters at City Hall to a building on Route 3 that the city plans to lease and renovate.

The city’s police department has become increasingly crowded as the department has expanded and as its storage and office space needs have grown.

After being presented with a proposal from police Capt. Shawn Willey, the council voted 5-2 to approve a plan to lease the former Associated Builders office, an 8,400-square-foot building on the corner of High Street and Buttermilk Road, near the Trenton and Lamoine town lines.

The city plans to spend roughly $870,000 to renovate and furnish the former hardware store to suit the police department’s needs. The rent on the building will start at $113,400 per year with a lease period of 20 years, with a 3 percent increase in rent each year. Over the 20-year term of the lease, annual rent would increase to $198,848 per year, resulting in an overall cumulative payment of $3,047104 to the building’s owner, Gurney Investment Properties, by 2042.

The projected combined cost of the renovations and rent comes to $3.9 million.

Willey told the council that the department has scouted various sites over the years, in conjunction with considering possible new locations for the city’s fire department, but have not found other viable options. In 2015 the city considered constructing a new public safety building for both its police and fire departments, but balked at the projected $20 million price tag.

Willey said that the city can lease the High Street building and begin renovations immediately, which would enable the department to begin using the space next summer. As the city has held off on deciding what it might do for its police and fire departments, the current police department offices have grown more cramped, making working conditions substandard, he said.

Officers occasionally have to process and test seized drugs in its cramped kitchen space, and there is little privacy for conducting interviews on sensitive topics, Willey told the council.

“We have no storage. We have items stacked right up to the ceiling,” Willey said. “The overall facility just brings down morale. It definitely is a turnoff for recruiting qualified candidates [for job openings].”

None of the council members disputed the need for moving the department into a larger space. Two councilors did express concerns about the plan and voted against the measure.

Councilor Casey Hanson said she wanted more information about how the lease cost of $13.50 per square foot compared to other commercial spaces for lease in Ellsworth.

Councilor Steve O’Halloran said he was in favor of trying to find better use of property the city already owns. He cited the Moore Center on State Street, which currently houses daycare and other programs run by the local YMCA and other not-for-profits, as a place where the city could move some of its departments. There could be room available at the Moore Center when the current leases there expire in two years, he noted.

One benefit of moving the police department out of City Hall is that the fire department, located in the building’s basement, could expand into the current police space,Fire Chief Scott Guillerault told the council.

The fire department could use the existing police squad room for meeting and training space, and could use the police department’s secure storage room for medication for the city’s growing EMS service. And, by moving command staff offices upstairs into the current police space, it would free up more space in the basement of City Hall for bunk rooms for on-duty firefighters, Guillerault said.

In another example of the city’s need for better office space, the council voted 6-1 (with O’Halloran opposed) on a separate plan to lease a former shoe store at Maine Coast Mall for its water department. That lease calls for the city to pay $4,227 a month for 36 months, or $37,800 a year, with a possible two-year extension.

Rain and runoff leak into the water department’s current building on Shore Road during storms, and there is insufficient storage space, Public Works Director Lisa Sekulich told the council. The former Payless Shoe space at the mall also comes with a heated garage that the department can use to store equipment such as meters and pumps, she said.

“It will give us the ability to store our stuff in a heated garage, which is one of the harder things to find,” Sekulich said.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....