‘The infrastructure is failing’: Wilton officials stress importance of new police facility to public

WILTON — The new police headquarters project — one that is 25 years in the making — has taken a big step forward with the town securing an architectural firm and gaining support of the Board of Selectmen.

But before plans can progress further, it needs approval from the public.

Director of Public Works Chris Burney said at a Monday informational meeting that this project might be the most important project Wilton has completed “in the last 10 years” or in the next decade.

The reason is simple, according to Police Chief John Lynch. “The infrastructure is failing,” he said.

The police headquarters was built 47 years ago and, when Lynch started his poing career, he said the accommodations were satisfactory. He recalled that, although the building was initially designed up to code in 1974, it severely lacks the electrical capabilities that modern departments rely on to serve their residents.

He said that outlets have “caught fire” in the building due to the high demand the department must ask of the older building.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the chief realized that one effective mitigation strategy could not be achieved while working in the headquarters, as the building lacked sufficient ventilation capabilities.

The current police building also does not have a fire alarm, but rather “heat detectors,” according to Lynch.

Lynch said the building’s size isn’t up to par. The headquarters was originally designed for 24 officers, but the current force has 44 officers. Additionally, the current building lacks a key state-mandated component: The ability to process adults and juveniles in different areas.

The Police Building Committee, Burney, Lynch and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice agreed that informing the public of the need is of immediate and paramount importance. The public will consider whether to approve the project at a special town vote in January.

The police chief reiterated for the public that the project is not just important for the police department, but the building also serves “as the heartbeat” for the town’s emergency medical services.

“We are asking” that the town give “us the ability to serve you well,” Lynch said. In return, the chief said the police force plans to continue to deliver on that promise at the highest level.

Police Building Committee co-Chairs Dave Waters and Patti Temple said a lot has gone into the planning for the new building since the last proposal in February 2020.

A lot of “public and non-public spaces” go into the design for a new police headquarters, Waters said Monday, calling it “different” than an office building or multifamily building.

He detailed that spaces have to be designed up to code to house police-specific accomodations, such as for records and evidence, firearms and ammunition, separate holding areas and for an emergency operations center. The building will also include a conference room, a feature that the police department has worked without since the current building’s inception.

One resident spoke on Monday, saying she never quite “questioned the extent to which we needed to replace” the police headquarters, until she took a tour of the current building during a guided open house over the weekend.

“I was really not prepared for the appalling conditions our officers have to work in,” she said, adding she is imploring Wilton residents to back this project.