Big surprise estimate for East Lyme police building concerning

Were the assurances that East Lyme could — for $5 million — purchase and renovate an existing building for use as a police station too good to be true? The initial architectural estimate for the job suggests so.

In February, town voters approved the $5 million expenditure, with roughly $2.8 million going to purchase the former Honeywell office building at 277 West Main St. and $2.2 million to repurpose it for use as a police station. That appeared quite the bargain compared to the $12 million needed to build a new station.

But architects Silver/Petrucelli+Associates have now placed the cost of renovations at $5.8 million — $3.6 million more than provided by the approved bond issue.

In this editorial space we had urged voters to approve the bond proposal. Should we have been more skeptical? Perhaps. But like voters, we were depending on the estimates provided by the Public Safety Building Vision Committee and the administration of First Selectman Mark Nickerson.

Nickerson told Day Staff Writer Mary Biekert that he expects the scope can be whittled down to get within the $2.2 million allotted by voters. Now we are skeptical. Finding $3.6 million would require an awful lot of whittling. East Lyme police officers and the public they serve deserve a quality public safety facility, not some bargain-basement facsimile.

Whether the public safety proposal was mishandled is certainly fair game in the local campaign. As a member of Finance Board last January, Democratic challenger Camille Alberti, who is seeking to unseat the Republican first selectman, had expressed concern about the lack of detail backing the price estimates. However, she ultimately offered the motion, trimming the expenditure from $6 million to $5 million, that was approved by finance and sent to the voters. Alberti reasoned the facility could be opened without holding cells, with East Lyme police continuing to utilize Waterford’s lockup, saving $1 million. The architectural estimate, however, does include the cells.

Alberti now argues that if she and voters had known the estimated cost of purchase and renovations would come to $8.6 million, a new building may have been the better alternative.

Police needed a new station. There is no argument about that. The existing station, built in 1930 as a storage and operations center for electric utility crews, is woefully inadequate. But the conversion to this new facility is proving rocky − politically and otherwise.

East Lyme owns the building, so whoever is first selectman come 2020 has to figure out how to make this work.

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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