School site still backed for new Norwich police station

Norwich - In its final report delivered this week to the City Council Public Safety Committee, the Police Station Study Committee stands by its original choice of the former William A. Buckingham School site as the best and most cost-effective option for a new police station.

After the committee made that recommendation in March, the City Council asked the committee to evaluate two unsolicited proposals by private developers to build a station and lease it to the city, one at the former YMCA property on Main Street and the second on property owned by Thayer's Marine & RV on North Thames Street.

The committee urged the City Council to advertise a request for proposals to obtain cost estimates for the Buckingham site and perhaps additional private developer proposals.

The council Public Safety Committee meets at 7 tonight at the East Great Plain Volunteer Fire Department to discuss the report.

The report contained a confidential section outlining proprietary financial information from the two developers. The committee met separately with the developers behind closed doors to review financial information on their plans to privately finance and lease the completed building to the city.

Without citing specific financial information, the committee wrote that both proposals require a parking garage, adding $5 million to $6 million to the project cost, based on previous estimates.

"The method of funding, design and construction also significantly affects the total cost of the project," the report says. "However, leasing significantly increases the overall costs over the life of the facility."

The committee also has concerns about each of the proposals. The former YMCA site is located in a congested traffic area, and the prisoner drop-off would be in front at the Main Street entrance. Police Chief Louis Fusaro told the committee he would want a more secure prisoner transport facility.

Half of the North Thames Street property is in a flood zone. The building would be elevated above flood levels. But the committee remained concerned about placing a critical public safety facility in a flood zone.

"The vulnerability of the North Thames concept is a substantial concern to the Police Station Committee," the report says. "It will remain a concern until the flooding and the building concept have been evaluated by a qualified civil engineer."

Alderman and safety committee member Mark Bettencourt agreed the city should put out an RFP for a police station but said he would have reservations about selecting a more expensive private developed police station.

Residents in November 2012 soundly rejected a $33 million downtown police station that included a $5 million to $6 million parking garage.

"I'm a little leery of the whole private developer thing, because it's a way to avoid a referendum, especially for a project that's more expensive," Bettencourt said. "I don't know if I could support that."

c.bessette@theday.com

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