WILTON — How much is the public willing to spend on an upgraded police station?

That is the question Wilton’s selectmen wrestled with at their meeting on Dec. 16 when presented with four options by the Police-Town Hall Building Committee. The committee presented options for both new construction and a renovation/addition of the present station which measures 11,000 square feet.

The options, with approximate figures for construction and soft costs, were:

 6,000-square-foot addition for a total of 17,000 square feet at $11.6 million.

 8,500-square-foot addition for a total of 19,500 square feet at $15.4 million.

 19,500-square-foot new construction at $15.9 million.

 19,500-square-foot new construction with renovations to the town hall campus and Comstock Community Center at $22 million.

The committee’s recommendation was for the new construction of the police building only at $15.9 million. It was asking the selectmen for guidance on how to instruct its architectural firm, Tecton, to proceed with more detailed plans that it will present to the selectmen on Jan. 13. The plan is to present a proposal to voters at the Annual Town Meeting in May. If it does not pass then, the earliest it can be proposed again would be May 2021.

Selectman Josh Cole expressed his concerns regarding costs.

“I think we need something less than $15.950,” he said and Selectwoman Lori Bufano agreed. Speaking of his campaign for reelection, he said, “the single most important issue to people I’ve talked to is taxes. … I want to give [Chief] John [Lynch] everything he needs to do his job but we also need to make sure we don’t blindside people with a giant tax bill on top of a higher assessment.”

After more discussion, the committee will ask Tecton to come up with a plan for new construction in the vicinity of $14 million as well as one for new construction at $15.9 million.

Committee meeting

Colliers, the town’s owners’ rep for the project, supplied the numbers and reviewed the options with the committee at its meeting on Dec. 12.,

In May 2017 voters approved $1.2 million to pay for surveys, studies, and services, such as those being provided by Colliers and Tecton Architects. That was 10 percent of a $12-million budget originally floated in 2013 that did not include the cost of demolishing the present police station.

Colliers told the building committee last week that with construction costs increasing six percent a year — a number challenged by several committee members — that $12 million had increased substantially and was no longer a realistic figure. Although one of the options to be presented to the selectmen is for $12 million, the committee concluded it would add so little to the current police station it would not be worth doing.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said when she and facilities director Chris Burney first began discussing this in 2016 there was an air of optimism that has since dissipated.

At that time the Wilton Wellness building was being built. “Guess what, it’s half-full,” Vanderslice said. “The high-paying jobs are gone. Home prices have decreased and continue to decrease. The tax law changed. So people’s appetites have changed. We just had an election. The people who said they were going to focus on reducing costs got the highest number of votes. That kind of says where we are.”

“Brightview pulled out. … The annual taxes on that was going to pay for the first eleven and a half million dollars of this project. So now we have to go find that financing,” she added.

Pushing the project off a few years was discussed, but that brings with it continually escalating construction costs and deferred maintenance expense to buildings that are not in the best of condition. Vanderslice was emphatic that work on the police station could not wait.

There was also discussion about doing the project in pieces a few years apart, but that was also dismissed.

“You’ve got one shot at this,” committee co-chair David Waters said. “You’re not going to be able to get the town to pay for part of this now and then five years from now they’re going to pay something more.”

Vanderslice said the town’s debt service also needs to be considered. “We are at the highest level of debt we’ve ever been that I can go back and find, so to add $22 million onto that, this is a difficult time to do that.”

What people will be most concerned about, she said, is how the mill rate will be affected by whatever option is chosen on top of any increases in the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen’s budgets. She could not be precise but said Wilton’s current debt obligation is over $80 million.

School enrollment factor

Colliers asked if there was a benefit to doing some of the smaller projects such as finishing Comstock and demolishing the town hall annex to eliminate deferred maintenance and open up the site to make future construction logistics easier that would actually reduce future construction costs.

Vanderslice could not say at the meeting if there would be a sizable enough reduction in debit service over the next five years to make the project more doable.

She went on to say of the three buildings — town hall, annex and police station — the police station has the most urgent needs.

In addition, she said, the needs of administrative employees will go down due to regionalization of certain services. That brought up a recent report to the Board of Education that school enrollment will further decline from 2010 to 2027 by 785 students. “That is an entire school and we’re not that far away from 2027,” she said.

“Suddenly maybe I don’t have to renovate this space,” she said referring to Comstock. “Because maybe a separate entrance in a school, I can work in a classroom. The whole finance department can go work in a classroom. If we’re going to have the equivalent of one of our schools empty … we are going to have excess.”

She added that putting police in a school is not an option.

The committee’s next meeting is planned for Wednesday, Jan. 8, at which time Tecton will present elevations and facades.