A sign announcing the future home of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office has hung on the former Evergreen Subaru car dealership building on Center Street in Auburn since 2022. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

AUBURN — Design work for the new Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office on Center Street will begin in January after the county commission entered into a contract with architectural firm Harriman earlier this month.

If all goes to plan, voters could see a referendum sometime in 2024, and possibly construction late in the year, according to Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson.

Samson said they will likely be ready to begin the formal review process with the Auburn Planning Board this spring.

The movement on the project comes after a lengthy, and at-times confrontational, process with Auburn officials over the proposed location of the new headquarters on Route 4, the former Evergreen Subaru property.

Soon after the county paid $4.5 million in February 2022 to purchase the property — with federal pandemic relief funds — Auburn instituted a moratorium on new public safety facilities in the city. Officials said they were blindsided by the plan, and they used the moratorium to edit Auburn’s ordinances related to government buildings, which now gives the City Council the final say on such proposals.

Things got even more heated when state Sen. Jeff Timberlake, a Turner Republican, proposed legislation that would’ve stripped Auburn of its ability to overrule its Planning Board if they endorsed a government building project. The proposal did not end up moving forward.


All along, the county has said that it is in desperate need of new facilities for the sheriff’s office and that the Center Street location has the needed space, parking and access. The city said it had envisioned the site as the location of dense development that could add to the tax base.

Samson said this week that the commission conducted a request for proposals process, ultimately choosing Harriman based on its cost analysis. He said he budgeted the cost of hiring a firm this year, and the contract has Harriman starting in January.

Samson said he expects the process to look similar to what Auburn just conducted for its $45 million public safety facility. A referendum would ask voters in all of Androscoggin County to approve a bond of up to a certain amount.

When asked, Samson said rough estimates based on the square footage of the full renovation and construction of a large addition on Center Street are in the $15 million to $20 million range. He’s also hoping some federal grants can be secured. The facility is planned to house the administrative offices, and the patrol, criminal investigation, communications and civil divisions of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office.

“Hopefully once that’s supported and approved by the community, then we work with Harriman to get shovels in the ground,” he said.

Even with the county’s hiring of Harriman, Auburn city staff seemed to be unaware this week of when the county plans to submit its project to the Planning Board. The city’s moratorium ended in February.


Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, said the city has had some discussions with the county about what was needed in an application, but has not received any plans. City Manager Phil Crowell said the county has been able to submit to the Planning Board since February.

“I expected more information by now but haven’t heard from them recently,” Cousens said.

Mayor Jason Levesque, who has been the most vocal on the sheriff’s office project, said Tuesday that while he supports the county “upgrading their sheriff’s space, the process taken so far has been mishandled.”

“It’s lacking public process not just in Auburn but throughout the county as this is a significant financial commitment seemingly being forced upon taxpayers without truly understanding the county’s short- and long-term needs,” he said.

When asked this week about the upcoming approval process in Auburn, and particularly the City Council, Samson said he’s looking at it as a clean slate.

“Because, it’s what’s available to you now,” he said, adding that he’s confident in the county’s ability to meet the new ordinance requirements. “As far as going to the council to get final approval, I have an open mind.”

“I think to get where we are, with the amount of investment that’s been done and the commitment from the county at this point, I’d like to think we’re beyond that. I think it’s accepted that the county owns the property and wishes to develop it for public safety purposes.”

Garrett Mason, a former state senator and current county commissioner from Lisbon, told the Sun Journal in June that funding for the project must be in place by 2024 and spent by 2026 or the federal government will require the county to return the $4.5 million in pandemic relief money tapped to buy the Center Street property.

Harriman, which also developed the new Edward Little High School, had previously helped the county conduct a space needs assessment and search for potential sites. The Androscoggin County Building, which also houses the Androscoggin County Jail and superior courthouse, was built in 1857.

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