A smart solution to address East Lyme's police station problem

There should be no debate that East Lyme needs a new police station. Built in 1930, it was originally a storage and operations center for electric utility crews, later repurposed as a science center in conjunction with nearby Millstone Power Station. It was adapted as a “temporary” police station 14 years ago.

It is too small for the town’s 23 full-time officers. The makeshift organization of the building does not meet the operational and security standards for a 21st century police station. Officers must transfer evidence to the Waterford police facility for safe keeping, wasting time. And that space is limited.

Because of space constraints, dispatch operations are housed elsewhere.

The station has serious maintenance issues, with water frequently leaking from the roof and seeping up through the foundation, soaking floors and creating mold concerns. When a department has to have a file cabinet on a dolly in the sergeants’ office, ready to be wheeled to a dry spot when the floods come, you know the situation has reached the point of intolerable.

It would make no sense to sink good money after bad to renovate this tired old structure. There is also the fact that it is within the 2-mile Millstone nuclear plant evacuation zone. Dominion, owner of Millstone, rents the town the structure for a token $1 and would transfer ownership if it closes. The .7-acre property has resale value for the town, given its prime location on busy Main Street in the village of Niantic.

So it makes all the sense in the world to close the station, use available state brownfield grants to clean up any pollutants and sell.

But where do the police go? The administration of First Selectman Mark Nickerson has come up with a solid, if not perfect, answer to that question. Voters have a chance to provide their stamp of approval in a referendum Wednesday.

The plan is to purchase and convert the soon to be vacant Honeywell office building at 277 West Main St., just west of the entrance to Rocky Neck State Park and near the border with Old Lyme.

If voters approve the $5 million bond referendum question, East Lyme would pay $2,775,000 for the 30-year-old, 30,000-square-foot structure, leaving $2,225,000 to carry out the renovations to convert it to a public safety facility.

Building a new police station would cost approximately $12 million.

About 20,000 square feet of the Honeywell building would be used for public safety operations, allowing the town to consolidate the town’s dispatch center, emergency operations and the fire marshal’s office together with police.

There is ample space for a large evidence room, proper arms and ammo storage, and for officer meeting space and training. A basement warehouse has a large garage door entrance, providing a near readymade sally port, meaning a secure area to bring people arrested in for processing.

Engineers have found the building in good shape with a 50-plus years useful life expectation. The 10,000-square-feet not needed for the police station would be available for other town space needs. The 17-acre parcel provides ample space for the proper impoundment of vehicles, which is not the case in the current location, and potentially for storage of school buses, said Nickerson.

Currently, holding cells are not in the budget, but could be added later. In the meantime, the Waterford station would continue to be utilized for lockups.

Is the location ideal? The answer is no and yes.

The answer is no, because it is not centrally located to serve East Lyme. But it does have quick access to Interstate 95, which means quick access to most of town. In any event, most officers are dispatched from their patrol points to a crime or accident scene, not directly from the station.

The answer could be yes, however, if preliminary talks with Old Lyme about merging into a single police force become reality.

This is a smart and economical approach to a problem that desperately needs addressing. We recommend voters cast a “yes” vote in Wednesday’s referendum.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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