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Selectmen Accept Police Chief’s Resignation

Changing Dynamics May Affect Bristol’s Town Building Plans

By Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — Police Chief Michael Lewis, whom the Bristol Board of Selectmen placed on administrative leave on Sept. 5, has resigned, effective Oct. 4.

Chairman Rick Alpers made the announcement on Oct. 5, saying the selectmen had accepted the chief’s resignation and that “The Select Board wishes to thank Chief Lewis for his service to the Town of Bristol.”

Selectmen maintained their silence on the reason they had placed the chief on administrative leave and provided no details about the resignation. The statement said, “The Town takes very seriously its obligation to protect the privacy rights of employees and former employees, and as a result the Select Board will not be commenting further.”

Town Administrator Nik Coates denied a request for a copy of Lewis’ resignation, citing the portion of RSA 91-A:5, IV, that pertains to exemptions under the Right-To-Know law for documents relating to internal personnel practices.

The town never learned the details of a similar departure, when former Fire Chief Steven Yannuzzi was on administrative leave for seven months before leaving office.

Coates said Lt. Kris Bean is the lieutenant in charge, and, with Lt. Tim Woodward, is running the department until the town has a chance to address the hiring of a new police chief.

“Nothing is planned yet for a [succession] process,” Coates said, adding, “I’ll be sitting down with some board members and staff to put ideas down and begin the process.”

Lewis joined the Bristol Police Department in August 2004 and became police chief in November 2010, following the resignation of John Clark, who had served as police chief for three years.

New Police Station?

Tom Caldwell PhotoNed Gordon discusses the proposed renovation of the Bristol Municipal Building and construction of a new town hall at a public forum on Oct. 4. Behind him are committee members Paul Manganiello, Susan Duncan, and Sandra Heaney.

Prior to being placed on administrative leave, Lewis had been serving on the town’s space needs committee, which has been looking at ways to reconfigure the Bristol Municipal Building to better serve the town. The police department currently operates out of the same building as the town clerk/tax collector, town administrator, and other business offices. In addition to tight quarters, some structural problems in the building have raised concerns.

Lewis pointed to previously prepared plans to convert the municipal building into a police station and said that, if Bristol moved the town offices elsewhere, he and his officers would be willing to provide some physical labor in putting those earlier plans into effect, which would help to reduce the cost of the renovations. The committee ultimately recommended reconfiguring the building for the police and building a new town hall for administrative offices on adjacent property that the town had purchased in 2016.

The town hired Samyn-D’Elia Architects of Ashland to review the committee’s recommendations and come up with a proposal that could go before the voters at the 2018 Bristol Town Meeting. Architect Cris Solomon presented preliminary plans during a public forum at the Old Town Hall on Summer Street on Oct 4.

Committee Chair Edward “Ned” Gordon said the architects had first looked at the municipal building to see whether an addition would be able to accommodate both police and town office needs. They ultimately agreed with the committee’s recommendation and put together conceptual drawings for two buildings — a converted police station and a new town hall.

The plans presented to the public received applause for style but speakers said the estimated cost, well in excess of $2 million, was too high, and they suggested looking at ways to reduce the price tag.

Resident Steve Favorite suggested that the town offices should remain in the municipal building, and that the town instead build a new police station. He showed a drawing that placed the police station on the adjacent “Smith lot” with parking on a higher level behind the municipal building. Doing so, said, would make it easier to access the holding area through a sallyport which, with the current building, would require a ramp and steps.

At the following night’s selectmen’s meeting, Paul Manganiello, who serves as the selectmen’s representative to the space needs committee, said building a new police station might make more sense than what they had been proposing.

“That’s a conversation we can think about now,” Manganiello said. “It was never on the table before because one of our committee members at the time had the plan for this place.”

Public Comment

Artist’s conception of what a renovated municipal building would look like if converted to a Bristol Police Station.

Resident Carol Huber said during the public hearing that she liked the idea of a new police department, calling the current plan “way out of our league”.

“What is this going to do to our taxes?” she asked.

Gordon said Favorite’s suggestion to put parking on the upper lot is impractical because it would require tearing down a current wall and building a new retaining wall, which he said could add $300,000 in site work to the project.

“We’ve got to have parking spaces,” he said.

Former selectman Janet Cote said she did not think the current plans sufficiently addressed safety, citing the steps leading to the booking and holding area of the police station.

Solomon said the safety and security of both the police and town office workers had been taken into account, even as they worked to keep the building as small and efficient as possible. Plans include a lift that can be used when taking the stairs is a problem.

He also described the below-ground rainwater storage system that would prevent an increased discharge into the state’s stormwater system.

Artist’s conception of a new town hall for Bristol.

Bill Dowey pointed out that the proposed town hall is not properly oriented to take advantage of sunlight, pointing out that the Minot-Sleeper Library’s solar array has saved the town $3,600 a year.

“If it’s turned, you could reduce your power costs to zero,” Dowey said.

John Sellers suggested using steel construction which would eliminate the need for load-bearing walls, which would open up space for future needs. He also advocated increasing the size of the meeting room to accommodate voting. Residents currently vote at the Old Town Hall, which has limited parking and a steep sidewalk.

Gordon said the committee did not think the additional $200,000 to $300,000 cost of enlarging the meeting room made sense when voting takes place only once or twice a year.

While some argued that there should be more space, others said there was too much space in the proposed plans, and that scaling them back is necessary.

Gordon said all of the comments will be taken into consideration as they continue to revise the plans, and that another public hearing will take place on Nov. 15.

At the selectmen’s meeting, Chair Rick Alpers commented, “It’s a pipe dream to think that’s it’s coming in under $1 million,” but he also questioned the cost estimates provided for the project. He suggested having Conneston Construction, Inc., of Laconia, which shaved the costs of the library renovations, to go over the plans and come up with more realistic costs.

9 October 2017

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