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East Lyme plans to hold referendum on future public safety building

East Lyme — The Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to move forward with plans to renovate and remodel the town’s future public safety building at a meeting Wednesday, while also approving a request to bond an additional $2.17 million needed to complete the project.

Proposed plans now will go before the Board of Finance for approval before voters will have their final say at a referendum, First Selectman Mark Nickerson said Wednesday.

Voters had approved bonding up to $5 million to purchase and renovate the former Honeywell building at 277 West Main St. at a referendum in early 2019. But now that the committee overseeing the project determined an additional $2.17 million will be needed to complete the renovations, voters will weigh in on whether to finish the project. Exact dates for a referendum have not been planned yet.

The town purchased the building for $2.7 million last year and an appointed vision committee, with the input of police Chief Mike Finkelstein, has been working since last summer with contracted architects Silver/Petrucelli + Associates to carefully plan renovations needed to make the building into a consolidated space to house the town's police department, dispatch center and fire marshal's office.

The estimated $7,178,566 renovation plan, as presented to the Board of Selectmen, includes the following: the cost of purchasing the more than 30,000-square-foot structure; three holding cells and a sally port area; an elevator cab; up to $500,000 in information technology infrastructure; a $40,000 estimate to eventually hook up to public water; more than $100,000 in architect fees; $50,000 for a clerk of the works; about $308,000 for contingency costs, as well as other miscellaneous items.

The selectmen on Wednesday hailed the plan as urgent and necessary, as well as the best deal for the town, after they described years of placing the town's police force on "the back burner" to make way for pressing school projects. The selectmen also described two previous, unsuccessful attempts to establish a public safety complex. In 2004, the Board of Finance declined a $6.5 million proposal to build a facility at Camp Nett and in 2007 a $14 million complex was rejected by voters at referendum.

"I've been at this since 1984," Selectwoman Rose Ann Hardy said, before explaining that a medley of school projects have pushed police to the back burner time and time again. "Most of our homes have four-burner stoves and when the stove goes, it's to the microwave, the hot plate or the Crock-Pot. But that doesn't cut it for an agency that's 24 hours, 365 days a year that we all count on. They deserve an appropriate, professional workspace for the professionals that they are."

Town police currently are housed in a small Main Street building, which the town rents from owner Dominion for $1 a year, that has significant flooding, mold and mildew issues.

Selectman Kevin Seery said, "There's no question the current (police) building (on Main Street) is just not safe and healthy for neither our officers or our members of the public. We would never allow our educators or people who work in Town Hall or members of public works to work in facilities like we our asking our officers to work. ... It's time to get our emergency services — the fire marshal, dispatchers and police — centrally located where they can provide the best possible services for the town."

East Lyme pays Waterford about $46,000 annually to use its holding cells, as East Lyme's current police building does not have such facilities. The town will be able to save that much money annually, the selectmen said Wednesday, once the new public safety building is completed.

As part of the presentation before the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, architects Bill Silver and Brian Cleveland also outlined the history of planning the renovations, important decisions made along the way and presented a cost comparison of other police buildings being built, renovated or expanded throughout the state.

Silver said compared to renovation and expansions costs for buildings in Brookfield, Newtown and Ansonia, East Lyme’s renovation costs have come in lower. Newtown’s 25,000-square-foot building — the former Taunton Press Building — will cost $15 million to renovate, for example, while a 22,500-square-foot expansion at Brookfield's current police building will cost $8.5 million.

Cleveland also said if the town were to build a new building of the same size for the same uses, it would cost about $12 million.

Plans for the new public safety building show the entirety of the renovations will be contained to the first floor of the building, leaving the second floor — or “almost 14,000 square feet of unfinished space,” Cleveland said — to possibly be utilized by other town departments in the future, which the selectmen argued added to the project's overall value.

During the public delegations section of Wednesday’s meeting, Public Safety Building Vision Committee member Lisa Picarazzi, who helped plan the renovations, cautioned that the proposal does not include a second rooftop air handler at $86,000, according to previous reporting by The Day, nor plans to replace the building’s roof, which was estimated to cost more than $370,000.

“I feel it was inappropriate that (these items) were not included in the estimate as a charge to the taxpayer was to refurbish the building,” Picarazzi said. “We will not see these in this estimate, but shortly, in a year, two or three, somebody will come back to you with a request to replace them, though they should be in this estimate, and at that time they will be more money.”

Cleveland and Silver later said that while one air handler is being replaced, the other still has about five years of life left. They added the roof’s life can be significantly extended "by 10 years or more," Silver said, with patching and repairs planned as part of the $7.17 million estimate.

"The building otherwise is in very good shape," Cleveland said. "It is very structurally sound and it will last for a very long time."

m.biekert@theday.com

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