South Bethany passes referendum

The results are in, and residents of South Bethany overwhelmingly supported council’s request for permission to spend up to $970,000 for a new police station and town hall. Turnout was light — much lighter than what the town typically sees for general elections, but Town Clerk Dee Burbage said they had mailed out 186 absentee ballots, and 173 came back. Another 104 people showed up at town hall to vote on Sept. 24, bringing the total to 277.

More than 84 percent voted in favor of the expenditure (233 to 44). Council Member Marge Gassinger, who led the charge on this project, said she was “very, very pleased” with the outcome.

“There wasn’t a huge turnout, but even when we first campaigned for this, all the people we talked to were in favor, with maybe one or two exceptions,” she said. “I think people recognized the need — if they’d ever seen the police trailer, it’s literally falling apart. We invited people to go over and take a look at it.

“And, we need more space in the town hall,” she added. “I think the residents were aware of that, too. We’re not going to have a mansion, but it’ll be nice.”

Council members debated total replacement versus renovation and addition (to address not only crowding, but crawlspace flooding and mold, ventilation and electrical problems), but in the end determined the price difference was rather negligible.

At the same time, they looked into possible cost-savings with modular versus stick-built. Police Chief Joe Deloach opened talks with one builder, then moved on to another, in pursuit of a company equipped to build a specialized unit like a police station.

The second company offered a floor plan Deloach considered appropriate, and in shopping for a town hall building from the same outfit, council was able to assemble the $970,000 preliminary project budget based on $212,000 for the police building and $401,000 for the town hall.

So, both police station and town hall are parenthetically referenced as modular on the preliminary budget — however, as council clarified during public hearings, they’d go either stick-built or modular, based on whoever (1) met the specifications and (2) met them as inexpensively as possible.

Aside from the two buildings for $613,000, French & Ryan estimated $245,000 for a combined sitework package (demolition, paving, sidewalks, stormwater management, etc.) and more than $65,000 in additional miscellaneous costs (more than half in architectural and civil/site engineering).

Council members settled on a rather modest 5-percent contingency fund ($46,000), but Gassinger said they’d incorporated a bit of fat under miscellaneous costs, which could be trimmed out again if absolutely necessary.

She anticipated council would move forward into the work of assembling bid documents in short order.