Building committee outlines options

Before the end of this year, the WPD/Town Hall Campus Building Committee expects to have an owner’s project manager on board to advise on executing a plan to upgrade the police department headquarters and deal with problems plaguing town hall and the town hall annex.

The committee also expects by that time to have hired an architect and have statements of requirements (SORs) for the police building and town hall/annex.

Once the committee chooses the best plan to achieve what is spelled out in the SORs, it will go before the Board of Selectmen with that plan and associated costs.

That was the direction presented by committee co-chairs Patti Temple and David Waters to the Board of Selectmen at its meeting on Sept. 17. The meeting was an opportunity for the co-chairs and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to review the history and progress of the campus project.

Vanderslice began the session with a brief overview of the project that began with discussions in 1996 that led to voters approving $500,000 for a study in 2000. Bonding for additional study was rejected in 2004. That anticipated an addition to the police station, new wing off the back of town hall, expansion of the fire station, expansion of the DPW garage, demolition of the annex and expansion of the EMS garage at a cost of about $15 million.

The current effort began with a needs assessment of the police station in 2013 that was updated in 2015 and included options for a new building off-site. A construction estimate of $12.6 million was determined. That is the number pegged for what is now a project that will keep the police station on the town hall campus.

In 2017 voters approved 10% of that cost — $1.2 million — for further study. Temple told the board that to date, the committee has spent less than $35,000 on the project. Vanderslice added that the town has not borrowed the $1.2 million, it only borrows money as needed.

Facilities director Chris Burney outlined steps taken to date:

  • Phase 1 of an environmental assessment is in its final stages, with “nothing alarming” being uncovered.

  • All drinking water has been tested with no problems.

  • A hazardous materials study is beginning to test for lead and asbestos.

  • While the electrical systems in town hall and the annex are not dangerous, they are not reliable. All emergency generators are in good condition.

After enumerating many of the shortcomings of the 44-year-old police headquarters, Temple said it is noncompliant with multiple state and federal requirements, has inadequate infrastructure, is severely overcrowded, has lavatories and locker rooms with limited ventilation and lockers too small for officers uniforms and equipment. Deficiencies are spelled out on the committee’s website,

She said the committee to date has:

  • Gotten inspections of multiple buildings and assessments of how they would function in a phased construction plan.

  • Assessed Comstock Community Center’s usage and space availability.

  • Conducted space needs surveys for all town departments.

  • Visited other police stations: Monroe, which shares space with its town hall, and Darien, which underwent a renovation and addition. It will visit Bethel, which is new construction, when completed.

Waters discussed the pros and cons of new construction versus a renovation of the police station. A new building, on the site of the old one, would allow them to design exactly for the town’s needs and would have a shorter construction period. However, there is cost associated with moving everyone out and then back in. Moving an emergency communications center presents specific challenges.

With a renovation there would be continued operations and fewer moving costs, but increased time and cost of meshing old and new construction.

The committee is assuming the annex will come down. If some town hall departments move to Comstock, as appears likely, that will free up space there.

A third option is to renovate town hall significantly to include the police department within and eliminate the current headquarters.

“We are nowhere near to making a decision,” Waters said.

Committee meeting

The committee met the following evening, Sept. 18, and it was determined Burney would oversee completion of the unfinished space at Comstock, thus taking that off the committee’s to-do list. Vanderslice, who was at the meeting, said she expects the town will have some funds available to do that, and if needed, a bonding request would be included in the next Annual Town Meeting.

The committee authorized Burney to issue an RFQ (request for qualifications) for an owner’s project manager. He expects to send that to town counsel for approval by the end of this week. Interviews could be conducted in late October.

The police commission, working with the police department, will develop an SOR for police headquarters that will spell out what is needed and why. It will then go to the Board of Selectmen for modifications and endorsement.

Vanderslice, Burney and the Board of Selectmen will work on an SOR for town hall.

The building commission will then work within the dictates of the SORs. Waters pointed out that the $12.6 million the committee is working with was originally determined as construction costs only and did not include things like insurance, contingencies and other costs. It will make their job all the more challenging, he said.

The committee’s next meeting is Oct. 16.