Buckingham School earns top grade for new Norwich police station

Norwich - The police station study committee Thursday affirmed that the former Buckingham School site at 188 Cedar St. ranked highest under several criteria as a possible site for a new police station, but the committee chairman acknowledged that other factors might have to be considered.

The full committee Thursday reviewed detailed scoring done by the site review subcommittee in four categories - location, geometry, community benefit and site costs - and even after changing some scores, the former school rose to the top of the list of 12 finalist sites.

"There are a lot of variables we can't nail down," Chairman David Eggleston said of the proposed final ranking.

For example, a privately owned site might not be available. The city might have other plans for a city-owned site and neighbors "might erupt violently" to a particular site, he said.

The committee is supposed to present its final report to the City Council on March 3, but Eggleston said the group would not be ready by that date. Committee members will write a formal report to be presented to the council later in March.

At the start of the meeting, Eggleston said even at this late date, a new site was submitted to the committee - land owned by the American Legion on Route 12 in the Laurel Hill section of the city. Eggleston referred the property to the site review committee for consideration, but the committee went forward with its final rankings Thursday without including that property.

Also at the end of the ranking review, former Alderman H. Tucker Braddock, not a committee member, asked to speak to clarify the ranking of property at 28 N. Thames St., owned by Thayer's Marine & RV. The site received a low ranking because it is in a floodplain, but Braddock said a project could incorporate an elevated design that puts the building above the floodplain.

Eggleston said that would be one variable the City Council could consider in its review of the committee's final report and rankings.

The former Buckingham School site ranked high in criteria such as access to major roadways, low site costs, site size and proximity to major population centers. The former Buckingham School site scored lower on the criteria of eliminating a blighted or derelict building, because the school building has been razed and the station would be built on the now-vacant property. But the low score on that one criteria did not affect the overall ranking.

The committee also rejected a concept of renovating the existing police station, because the site is too small and a combination renovation and new construction project there either would require finding a temporary site for the station during construction or a phased project.

The committee will meet again at 5 p.m. Thursday, when the committee also hopes to have a date when it will present the final report to the City Council.

Eggleston said the committee also hopes to address the "sense of urgency" in the need for a new station. He said the police department is operating in a situation that soon will become untenable. But at the same time, "we do want to do this right and take our time."

c.bessette@theday.com

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