Newtown, Wilton considered top sites for regional firing range

Newtown, followed by Wilton, have been chosen as the potential site for a new regional training facility and firing range that will likely serve about two dozen police departments in western Connecticut.

The new Newtown police station, which opened at 191 South Main Street in 2020, is considered the top choice for the project, said Mike Towle, the deputy director for the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, who is also serving as the project lead.

Wilton's Transfer Station was tossed around as an early contender and is now the primary backup, Towle said. The final decision will be made in the coming months.

"We're leaning towards Newtown, it seems to be the best location," Towle said. "If something were to not work, Wilton's Transfer Station would be the secondary spot."

Wilton has been looking at firing range options for its officers to practice since its new police headquarters doesn't propose one onsite. The current headquarters features a defunct firing range in the basement that has long been closed for issues of ventilation and officer safety.

Towle said the regional project is expected to cost $2 million to build.

That $2 million will largely be covered with a recently awarded $1.5 million grant from the state under the Regional Performance Incentive Program, Towle said. 

"However, that grant requires that 25 percent of the total project cost is paid for by municipalities," Towle said.

The remaining $500,000 will need to be raised by towns that have pledged to support the project, though it doesn't specify which communities will have to contribute financially.

Letters of intent to support have come from police chiefs in Wilton, Easton, Fairfield, Milford, Naugatuck, Newtown, Norwalk, Oxford, Redding, Ridgefield,Stamford, Trumbull and Weston. The Western Connecticut State University Police have signed as well, Towle said.

These departments will also likely be training in the facility immediately after it is built, Towle said.

Towle said the project's timeline has not been finalized.

"The grant we won incentivizes you get the work paid out for within a year," he said.

While he hopes the project can be done within a year from now, he admits that it also depends on the type of build.

If the project is built from scratch, meaning a new building must be constructed on-site to accommodate the firing range, the project could take longer than a year. If WestCOG goes with a "prefabricated range," meaning a pre-built range is built offsite and brought in, the project may be completed much sooner.

The project will go out to bid soon, Towle said.

He cautioned the overall cost of the project may be affected by the construction price fluctuations due to the pandemic and called upkeep cost estimates a "bit of a guessing game" at this point.

"We are still working on some details and ironing it out," Towle said. "It's not fully finalized."