Voters to now decide fate of Wilton police headquarters

WILTON — After nearly two decades of attempting to update the police building, the fate of a new headquarters now sits in the hands of the people.

Residents will be able to attend at the annual town meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Clune Center at Wilton High School ahead of the town-wide referendum on the project and budget on May 7. Polls will be open then from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Clune Center.

“Hopefully, people are informed and come out to vote,” said Wilton Police Capt. Robert Cipolla.

Cipolla said the town meeting will be the big hurdle for the project 18 years in the making. Residents will wield the power to either approve or veto the proposed $16.9 million project.

If it’s vetoed, “then I guess we are going back to square one,” he said.

Residents vetoed an expansion to the Town Hall campus, located just off of Danbury Road, at the annual town meeting in 2004. It would have included police, fire, emergency medical services and public works. A number of different proposal iterations for the police headquarters have since been explored, but none have come to fruition.

Rebecca Hopkins and Jeff McElravy of Tecton Architects, the company that received the police building contract in 2019, have reiterated the needs for both modern and future-facing features for the new headquarters.

The current station is marred with antiquated building designs, isn’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and features outdated electrical capacities, according to Tecton, the police building committee formed by the municipality and several town officials including the department itself.

“The infrastructure is completely outdated,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said, noting that the HVAC and electrical systems are nearly 50 years old.

Hopkins detailed new features, such as improved locker rooms with the capacity to be flexed for a changing officer demographic and with the ability to serve the current female officer roster. The current building is also not compliant with state regulations in terms of its detention center. Currently, the headquarters lacks separate processing areas for adults and juveniles, as well as for males and females — a distinction mandated by state regulations. The new building, per Tecton’s representatives, would address this.

She also said Tecton was able to bring its building cost down from $17.4 million to just under $17 million by “increasing building efficiency” even with inflation’s effect on building materials.

Vanderslice said that an updated headquarters is necessary for the needs of a department that has grown along with the town’s population over the last 50 years.

“Back in 1970, the population of Wilton was 13,600. Now, it is 18,500,” Vanderslice said. She also referenced a housing and commercial “boom” since the 1970s that puts more of a demand on the department in terms of coverage.

Dave Waters, a member of the police building committee, said the town is much more “mature” in its development now and that Tecton has taken its steady projected demographics into account. The town’s population and housing shift wont change nearly as dramatically over the next 50 years as it did the last 50.

Vanderslice also proposed a three-year bonding plan for the police building project. According to her presentation, $5.4 million would be proposed for Fiscal Year 2023, $8.5 million for Fiscal Year 2024 and $2 million for Fiscal Year 2025. The first selectwoman said the town typically tries to stay under $80 million in its end-of-fiscal year debt ceiling, but could jump above that just once in Fiscal Year 2025 if funds for updates to Wilton High School and Middlebrook Middle School are added that year, however those numbers have yet to be finalized.

The new building is proposed to be built just feet in front of the current building, but will allow for the police to remain in place during construction.

“We will actually be able to stay here,” Cipolla said. “They will be building in front of the station, so that’s a positive in terms of this design.”

McElravy, who said he has been designing police buildings for 35 years, anticipates the building’s lifespan to land somewhere between 50 and 75 years, calling it a design for a “well-built building that will serve the town for many decades.”