Published May 17. 2013 4:00AM
Few can dispute that Ledyard needs a new police station. The existing headquarters on Lorenz Industrial Parkway in part dates back to the 19th century and had been used at one time as stables; the building is cramped, leaky and run-down. It would take about $250,000 just to bring the outmoded structure up to minimum standards.
The only sticking point, it seems, involves a new location for the station.
Officials are backing a plan to knock down the former Ledyard Firehouse next to Town Hall and to construct a new station, though some residents favor converting the former Gales Ferry School for that purpose.
The Day endorses the old firehouse site and encourages voters Tuesday to approve a $6.75 million bond authorization. That vote will take place during a daylong referendum that separately will consider the $50.1 million annual town budget.
Though the estimated cost of building the station at the old firehouse site is somewhat higher than either the Gales Ferry School proposal or a separate plan to build it near the town transfer station on J. Alfred Clark Way, we believe the location next to Town Hall more than makes up for the relatively modest extra expense. Officials also evaluated four other sites before agreeing on the Ledyard Center location.
Like many suburban towns in southeastern Connecticut, Ledyard is spread out, with a main commercial corridor and Dow Chemical extending along Route 12 in Gales Ferry, extensive housing subdivisions including The Highlands and Sherwood Forest neighborhoods, a scattering of horse and dairy farms, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's Foxwoods Resort Casino off Route 2.
For years authorities have sought to define more sharply a town center off Route 117, also called Colonel Ledyard Highway, just south of the Route 114 intersection. A police station next to Town Hall would help advance this worthwhile village concept.
Several other institutions already are within walking distance: the Bill Library, Ledyard post office, Dime Bank branch, Ledyard Center School, Ledyard Fairgrounds, Holdridge Farm Nursery, Valentino's Restaurant, a radio station, Starwood Village Market, gas stations and other shops.
Last year Ledyard obtained a grant to construct a stonewall bordering a town green; Mayor John Rodolico, who favors the old firehouse site, is hoping for additional funds to construct sidewalks and make other town center improvements.
Use of this central site would have an added benefit, Mayor Rodolico said in an interview this week: It would require demolition of the vacant firehouse, long an eyesore and albatross the town has been unable to use or sell since the fire department moved to new quarters on Fairway Drive.
"The town shouldn't retain assets that aren't useful," he said of the old fire station.
Replacing the dilapidated structure with a new police station would be part of the "good synergy" of a town center, Mr. Rodolico said.
The mayor has a reputation as a fiscal conservative, and we feel confident he would not move forward with any plan that substantially raised taxes. In fact the price likely will decrease after officials hire an architect and refine the plan, Mayor Rodolico added.
With 12,000 square feet of space - about 5,000 square feet larger than the existing quarters - the proposed station would be large enough to accommodate a department made up exclusively of town police officers. Ledyard now has a resident state trooper along with 19 fulltime officers and eight dispatchers.
Mayor Rodolico said he expects Ledyard will have its own department within a couple years, and that the new station would be part of a plan to serve the town's needs for another 30 to 40 years.
The town's Planning and Zoning Commission, Economic Development Commission and the Ledyard Town Center Committee have endorsed the Ledyard Center site.
Voters should agree on Tuesday that this is the best plan to provide for public safety, enhance the town center and in the long run, save money.