Published in the June 27, 2018 edition

WAKEFIELD — In a close vote, planned improvements to the Public Safety Building were rejected during a Special Election yesterday.

With over 11.5 percent of Wakefield’s 18,472 registered voters heading to the polls at the Galvin Middle School cafeteria, a Town Meeting-approved plan to spend $8 million to upgrade the facility that houses police and firefighting services was overturned, 1,118 to 1,042.

In what must have come as a surprise to town officials, the proposed Public Safety Building project was rejected despite the fact the work would be paid for without raising anyone’s taxes.

Supporters of the facility improvements said the building is failing on many levels, particularly where it came to the side that houses police. Space is said to be woefully inadequate for a department the size of Wakefield’s and issues have developed with boilers, air conditioning units and the electrical system.The project called for bumping out the front left side of the Public Safety Building for all three stories. This would have added the necessary space to allow for the proper placement of evidence and weapons, a better detective space, adequate and private areas for family service officers and clinicians, as well as adequate space so command staff can meet. Private areas would have been available for citizens to report crimes, and the dispatch center would have moved to a reworked lobby so all those entering the Public Safety Building wold be met by a police officer.

Back on May 7, during the spring Town Meeting, advocates for the project spent about two hours presenting and then debating the merits of the plan. It passed easily, 168 to 41.

But a group of residents came together and collected enough signatures to take advantage of a Town Charter provision requiring any Town Meeting decision to go before the voters in an election if 200 people petition for it.

The two men who spearheaded the opposition to the Public Safety Building improvements, Bob McLaughlin and Bob Mitchell, reacted last night to yesterday’s election results.

“It was a healthy debate,” McLaughlin said. “I think everybody learned a lot.” He maintained that there was “a lot more information” available by the time of the election. 

“With $8 million on the line, it doesn’t hurt to have the whole town vote,” he said. “This doesn’t close the door on doing something,” he said. “They can come back with some other solution.”

Mitchell wanted to thank the Town Council, the Finance Committee, the Permanent Building Committee, as well as Police and Fire staff for all their work.

He also thanked those who signed the petition. “Without them we wouldn’t have had the opportunity for the whole town to weigh in.”

Mitchell called the process “an affirmation of the citizens’ right to petition their government. It’s part of the foundation of our government.”  

In a letter to the Item, Police Chief Rick Smith — an ardent supporter of the proposed Public Safety Building improvements — said:

“Let me begin by thanking all of you for your support, time and effort in the Police Station project. As you all know, sadly, it failed. As your Chief I find it disheartening that the public chose to vote the way they did. This vote does not solve anything. It creates more issues than it solves.

“The people have spoken but I can guarantee this: the men and women of the Wakefield Police will continue to deliver the best in policing services possible as we always have. We can rest on the fact that we are an incredibly professional police department that is nationally recognized for the work we do in crime reduction, community policing, victim advocacy and ensuring our elder community is served with respect and dignity.

“Again, I thank you for your support and hard work,” the chief said.