Officials see need for new facility; renovations on the table

AMHERST – The town needs a bigger and better police station, selectmen agreed as they reviewed warrant articles for 2019, including one to establish a capital reserve fund for a renovated and expanded police station.

The building was built in 1980 and renovated in 1996. Now that the ambulance service has moved out of the building into what is now a joint facility for Amherst Fire Rescue, only half of its 10,000 square feet is in use.

Police Chief Mark Reams gave the board a slide presentation recently showing how small the facility is compared to those in comparable-sized towns and what is lacking, including safety features.

Amherst police make about 500 arrests a year, a good number of them considered high-risk, he said, and prisoners go through the same lobby where residents obtain police services. There’s never been a serious incident, but there have been some tense situations.

“It’s the same lobby where an 85-year-old woman came in to complain about trucks speeding on her street,” the chief said.

Plans call for the cell block and booking room to be relocated to the basement, so prisoners would not have to mingle with the general public. That also would allow direct access from the sally ports for two cruisers to pull inside the building, close the roll-up doors and escort prisoners directly to the booking room – “a necessary feature in a modern police facility,” Reams said.

Police also lack secure storage for vehicles and other large equipment and need more room for evidence storage and administrative functions, and a “soft interview” room for sensitive situations and a dedicated polygraph room.

Selectmen agree that police need a better building.

“The tour you gave us made it clear, (the facilities) are not optimum,” said board Chairman Dwight Brew, and Peter Lyon asked if a better option would be to abandon the current station and build a new one. But at a cost of about $3-4 million, that’s “just not viable.”

“You and your people work very hard to provide a professional organization,” said Lyon, a retired Amherst police chief. “You’ve done your job and you’re asking us to do ours, and that’s what we need to do – provide a facility that meets the department’s needs.”

An architect’s estimate put the cost of renovating the current building at about $600,000, and the capital reserve warrant article is for $100,000, so it will be a few years at least before the project begins.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or