Ledyard - The Town Council heard presentations on the proposed construction of a new police station and major renovations to Ledyard Middle School last week as it prepares to decide whether to send the two projects to a referendum vote in May.
Architect Brian Humes of Jacunski Humes Architects of Berlin presented near-identical 12,130 square-foot, two-story police station plans for two possible locations - the transfer station on J. Alfred Clark Way and the site of the old Ledyard Fire House next to Town Hall. The Municipal Building Committee had initially considered six locations.
Several council members expressed their enthusiasm for building the police station next to Town Hall in Ledyard Center, though this site - because it is situated among existing infrastructure - could prove more costly.
"I really think it's important to have a visible police presence," said council member Bill Saums. "People know the police are there," he said of the old station on Lorenz Parkway, "but they don't see it."
"People tend to slow down in front of police stations," he added.
Council member Mike France and Mayor John Rodolico said the central location could be a boon for sorely needed economic development in the area.
"We have to look at price, but there are intangibles that go along with each site," Rodolico said.
Humes, who said he has designed more than 60 police stations throughout New England, said the old police station, parts of which have been standing for more than a century, is a "woefully inadequate" space with tight quarters and security issues.
"We never find a good situation when we come into a community," he said.
Rodolico said the current building is also saddled with costly maintenance issues, and the town would need to spend about $256,000 next year to bring it up to "some level of adequacy."
"We just do not want to put the amount of money into it that's required," he said.
Last May, the town council authorized $20,000 for architectural services; in June, the council assigned the project to the Municipal Building Committee, and in July, the committee hired Jacunski Humes.
Superintendent of Schools Mike Graner gave the second presentation on plans for the middle school.
One major objective of the renovation would be to move the district's sixth-graders up to the middle school in order to consolidate the class from the three elementary schools. The plans include building brand-new wing for the sixth-graders - tacking on about another half of the existing school's size - reconfiguring the middle section of the school to add a courtyard and close off the open-cluster classrooms, and renovating the section with the school's entrance to include a kitchen.
The addition of the kitchen - along with the installation of an emergency generator - would make the school eligible to be an emergency shelter. And closing off the open classrooms would eliminate a major security flaw in the school's setup, which leaves the majority of students in the clustered, open classroom space vulnerable in the event of a lockdown.
"The joke at the middle school is if there's an intruder, you just pray you're in a science classroom," Graner told the council. "If you're in the right space, you can be relatively well secured. But God forbid there's an intruder, that intruder would have access to 80 percent of the school very quickly, because there are no walls."
"This plan brings us to a far greater level of security," he said.
Another benefit of the completed renovation would be the ability to close Ledyard Center School. At 63 years old, the elementary school is the district's oldest facility, plagued with expensive plumbing and electrical problems that Graner called a "continuing saga." Five preschool classrooms would be constructed in the new middle school, moving the program from the Gallup Hill School to make room for the influx of Ledyard Center students.
Council member Sharon Wadecki said based on the experience her children had attending Ledyard Middle School - and particularly with the open-cluster classroom setup - she would love to see it renovated.
"Those two years that the boys went there, oh my," she said. "It's very disruptive to our kids."
A cost estimate is expected at tonight's school board facilities committee meeting. In order for the renovation to obtain state funding next spring, voters would have to approve it by the end of June. Graner said he can also petition the state to expedite the process. The new middle school could be open by the fall of 2017.
Graner said the Board of Education will vote on the final proposal Wednesday and then send it to the Town Council for approval on March 13.