East Lyme police building architect explains $5.8 million estimate at selectmen's meeting

East Lyme — Amid escalating concerns that costs for renovations of the proposed public safety building would soar much higher than what the town has approved, the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday heard an explanation from the project architect, who said he was confident the facility would come in on budget and within the desired scope promised to residents.

Though not originally included on the meeting agenda, principal architect William Silver of Silver/Petrucelli + Associates explained to the board that the “needs assessment” for the building, as well as the first “conceptual design,” presented to the Public Safety Building Vision Committee on Sept. 26 was just the first phase of a multiple-step process between architects and the committee — a "planning tool" to begin the process.

He added that the $5.8 million price estimate was presented to “show the big picture” of the project, “to give you a sense of what the total responsibilities in the long run are going to be involved.”

“We knew right from the start, and it was clearly communicated in the Request for Proposal, that the budget was $1.7 million and we are going to meet $1.7 million,” Silver said. “Part of an (architect and engineer’s) responsibility in these studies is not just to give you the limited information of what there is to meet your budget, but to show you the big picture.”

Voters in a February referendum approved spending up to $5 million to purchase and renovate the former 30,000-square-foot Honeywell office building at 277 West Main St. into a consolidated space that would host a new police facility, as well as the town’s dispatch center, fire marshal’s office and emergency operations center.

Having closed on the building in May for about $2.77 million, the town is left with an approximately $2.23 million budget for repurposing the structure as a public safety facility — $1.7 million of which will be used exclusively for renovations, while the remaining $500,000 will be used to install communications wiring in the building, First Selectman Mark Nickerson said.

But after Silver/Petrucelli + Associates said renovations could cost as much as $5.8 million at the Sept. 26 Public Safety Building Vision Committee meeting — $3.6 million more than provided by the approved bond issue — many residents, as well as some town officials, have expressed worry that the project will not come in on budget, or if it did, whether it would include the necessary elements needed for a quality police building.

Silver noted Wednesday that last month’s preliminary presentation was not initially supposed to be made as part of a public meeting and that such presentations typically aren’t made public so early in the process.

“We had not even yet met with the committee and were surprised that it was a public forum,” Silver said. “It was our error for showing the big picture so prematurely to a process that normally works with a committee through multiple meetings. I can almost assure that we would have 10 meetings of preliminary planning where the committee and the architects and engineers all work together to scope the project to meet the problematic needs but to also meet the budget.”

“We were surprised and probably should have guarded our remarks,” Silver said. “... Our goal is to get the police department, the EOC, the fire marshal, dispatch, all under one roof in an adequate space that will serve them for the next 20 years plus and we are confident that we are doing that.”

In response to Silver’s comments, Nickerson said he believed that some Vision Committee members may not have understood that this first presentation was a typical beginning point of the planning process.

Selectman and Vision Committee Chair Paul Dagle reiterated Silver’s points, saying the presentation and the initial estimates were “the first in many, many steps.”

“We are only at the concept phase right now,” Dagle said, before explaining that in the time since, the vision committee already has identified some areas to scale back or reconfigure, stating that police services will be designed to only inhabit the first floor of the building, instead of being spread on two floors, thereby saving money.

“We are very confident that we will achieve a design that will serve the purpose and functionality for the organizations we will put in this public safety building, and we will be able to do it at budget,” Dagle said. “We have a ways to go. There will be give and takes.”

Dagle also mentioned that he, other committee members and architects met Monday evening to further clarify and discuss plans. Nickerson said to The Day on Tuesday the meeting was held privately.

Dagle and Nickerson added that as part of the architectural design phase, the committee will request designs for the sally port and holding cell area of the building and also will obtain a “hard construction” cost for those proposed areas when the vision committee goes out to bid for a contractor.

Dagle said that with those hard “quantifiable numbers,” the vision committee and townspeople then will make a conscious decision on whether to build that part of the project into the police building now, or wait until a later time.

According to Silver’s preliminary plans, the sally port and holding cell area was estimated to cost a little over $1 million.

Selectman Rose Ann Hardy said she still worried the project would resemble the high school expansion project completed about two decades ago, which she said “was underbid to begin with” and did not include everything it needed when being built.

“I don’t want that to happen to this building,” she said. “I think the public has a right to know what they are not going to get for the money that was budgeted, what’s being eliminated, so that we aren’t nickeled and dimed to death for the next 20 years trying to make up for what we didn’t do in the first place.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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