Study panel has doubts about two private proposals for new Norwich police station

Norwich — The Police Station Study Committee expressed serious skepticism Thursday about whether two unsolicited private development proposals for the former YMCA building on Main Street and property owned by Thayer's Marine & RV on North Thames Street would be viable for a new police station.

The City Council voted Monday to ask the committee to evaluate the two proposals and report its findings to the council Public Safety Committee by July 9.

The two sites were rejected outright by the committee in its initial evaluation of 30 sites - the Thayer property because it is in a flood plain and the YMCA property for being much smaller than the 2.72-acre minimum size. The committee recommended building an estimated $20 to $21 million project at the site of the former William A. Buckingham School on Cedar and Washington streets.

But committee members said they realize the city might prefer a private police station proposal, because the city would lease the property through annual payments worked into the city budget, avoiding a referendum.

Residents soundly rejected a $33 million police station proposal on Cliff Street at a November 2012 referendum.

Committee member Karen Neeley initially worried whether the committee could even evaluate unsolicited proposals, since the city never advertised a request for proposals for the project.

But Chairman David Eggleston said the committee could respond to the City Council's request to evaluate the proposals with the ranking criteria used for all 30 sites, including site size, access, cost, community benefits and floodplain issues. In the first round of evaluation, these two sites were eliminated automatically for the small size and floodplain issues.

Member David Winkler, however, said he felt the committee was "being used" to find a way to make either of the two proposals viable. He suggested the committee repeat its first recommendation and "don't play."

Winkler said building a station on a much smaller site would require a parking garage and a taller building, which would add several million dollars to the cost. Building an engineered facility to avoid flooding also would add significant cost to the project, Winkler said.

Winkler has asked police station consultant and architect Brian Hume to calculate minimum square footage per floor - considering functions that must be located on the same floor - to determine whether the 0.62-acre YMCA site is feasible.

The committee also will obtain city flood maps and decide whether flood-prone properties pose serious or minor flooding hazards. But the committee remained skeptical about whether any property in a floodplain should be considered.

The committee will meet at 5 p.m. on Thursdays to evaluate the properties.

"I still think we drive for a property that doesn't need a garage," Winkler said. "… Cost is why we are here. The referendum died on cost."

c.bessette@theday.com

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