East Lyme officials move forward on single-floor police building design plan

East Lyme — Town officials agreed to move forward on design plans for the proposed policing facility Thursday, approving a single-floor concept after discussing with architects whether it was feasible to complete the proposed renovations within the allotted budget.

The police facility will be located in the former Honeywell office building at 277 W. Main St. Voters in a February referendum approved a $5 million plan to purchase the 30,000-square-foot building, which has two floors, and consolidate the town's police operations, dispatch center, fire marshal's office and emergency operations center there. The second floor may be used later to accommodate space needs of other town departments.

The Public Safety Building Vision Committee did not approve a final budget for the renovations nor did it finalize which line items will be scaled back Thursday. But after going through estimates with contracted architects from Silver/Petrucelli + Associates, committee members said they now have a better idea of which items can be scaled back or eliminated, and many said they felt confident that the cost of renovations could be brought within the $1.7 million budget approved by voters.

Architects at an Oct. 29 meeting had presented an estimated $2 million worth of renovations in 14,776 square feet of the building, but did not have time on that day to see where cuts could be made.

Committee members went through those estimates Thursday, selecting several areas of possible savings. For example, a new coffee machine may not be needed, saving $600, nor two refrigerators, saving $3,000. Committee members said the police force can use appliances from the current fire marshal’s office or police station.

After less than an hour of discussion, the committee identified about $300,000 it could save without sacrificing the quality of the proposed policing facility, committee member and Finance Board Chairman Bill Weber said.

“I think we’ve demonstrated that this concept is definitely able to do everything that we need to do,” Weber said. “We just demonstrated that we can get this concept in under budget or on budget. ... To me, I don’t see the things that we’ve eliminated as being anything other than excessive, and I still think there are still opportunities to go lower.”

The committee also decided it may only purchase one air-handling roof-top unit instead of two, saving $86,000, after architects said that of the two air units being used by the building now, one still has at least five years of life left while the other soon would reach the end of its life.

Among other places to scale back, the committee said it may not need to purchase 35 lockers at $1,000 a piece, but will instead buy 25 to meet the police department’s current needs. It also may not need to purchase three flag poles — at $2,300 each — to be placed in front of the building, but instead could do with two.

Committee Chairman Paul Dagle, who is also a selectman, also reviewed where the town’s Public Works Department could complete work for the project, such as taking over exterior improvement and utility work that will be needed, saving tens of thousands of dollars.

With permission to now move forward, architects will create a schematic design of the approved single-floor concept, as well as construction drawings, for the committee to review before going out to bid on the renovations.

When the committee will go out to bid and select a contractor is not clear yet, but Dagle said by phone Friday that architects will provide a timeline at the committee’s next meeting later this month.

Dagle also said that the committee won’t know final numbers for the project until after it receives finalized construction bids from contractors. From there, the committee will make recommendations on how to proceed with the building to both the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance, who will have a final say in what the building should and should not include.

“We know we are in the ballpark now,” Dagle said Friday by phone. “But we don’t know the final costs.”

Coming within the town’s allotted $1.7 million budget, however, largely hinges on whether the state will allow a modification waiver to bypass state-required structural upgrades for public safety buildings. If the town does not receive a waiver, it will need to pay for an estimated $268,111 for those upgrades, likely pushing renovation costs beyond its budget.

Architects said Thursday that the committee should submit a modification waiver application to the state building official now that the committee has approved a design concept. Dagle has said the state typically has within 30 days to reply to the town with a decision on whether the project will qualify for the waiver.

Dagle also said Thursday that the committee is moving forward on designs for the sally port and holding cells to obtain accurate estimates before deciding whether to add them to the project. Residents likely would need to approve more funds for those options. The architects have estimated those parts of the building will cost an additional $677,673, compared to an initial $1 million estimated price tag.

The town's police force presently uses Waterford's holding cells to process arrests.

Eight committee members approved moving forward with the single-floor plan while one member, Lisa Picarazzi, abstained from the vote, stating that she felt she did not have enough information to make an informed decision on the building.

“I know we are trying to meet a number, but I’m concerned that we are going to be cutting corners here and there, and I’m worried about the overall quality of the building, that we are focused on a number and we’re not going to have the quality we told the taxpayers they’d get,” Picarazzi said. “We’re nickel and diming, cutting down into the pennies here. I’m just saying big picture, let’s just zoom out for a minute. Is this the product that we want? Are we going to be happy with this and proud of this and is this sustainable?”

Responding to her along with other committee members, Weber said, “At this milestone, the proposal makes sense to continue forward. And when we get the construction estimates back, we might say something different ... I think it’s a logical assumption that we can get this proposal in on budget and have a quality product.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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