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East Lyme Board of Finance postpones police building decision to July 20

East Lyme — The Board of Finance has postponed until July 20 its decision on whether to approve a request to bond an additional $2.17 million to complete plans to renovate and remodel the town’s future public safety building.

The board originally was set to hear and consider a presentation from the appointed vision committee tasked with planning renovations Wednesday, as well as decide on whether to approve the money needed to complete the project.

Now that the decision has been postponed, town registrars also have postponed a potential referendum date for voters to weigh in on the decision from July 23 to July 30.

Chairwoman Camille Alberti said by phone, as well as to the board, Wednesday she postponed the presentation and decision so the public safety building would be the only item on the board’s agenda at a special meeting July 20 instead of balancing both regular business and the decision at its regular meeting Wednesday. “The public safety building is important enough to warrant its own special meeting,” she said by phone. “That will be the sole focus of the (July) 20th meeting.”

Alberti told The Day she also is collecting information from Finance Director Anna Johnson about the full spectrum of costs associated with the building she believes have been left from public attention. She said an example of an unconsidered "project cost" is how much the town is spending on electricity for the unoccupied building, as well as the amount of interest the town has paid for its short-term loans to purchase the $2.77 million building last May. Alberti also has said she is trying to better understand the amount of interest the town will pay in the future on the bonds to purchase and renovate the building, among several other factors, such as the cost of an eventual roof replacement and air handling unit, which architects have estimated will cost more than $300,000 at some point.

Alberti said she plans to discuss and review those costs in detail with the board at its July 20 meeting after hearing a detailed presentation of the proposed remodeling from the Public Safety Building Vision Committee, which has been planning the building’s renovations with contracted architects Silver/Petrucelli + Associates since last summer.

The Board of Finance, as well as voters at a referendum in early 2019, approved bonding up to $5 million to purchase and fully renovate the former Honeywell building at 277 West Main St. to consolidate the town’s police force, dispatch center and fire marshal’s office after the Board of Selectmen had requested $6 million to complete the project.

But after the vision committee, which was appointed in early 2019 and is made up of police Chief Mike Finkelstein, selectmen, former members from the Board of Finance and members of the public, determined in May an additional $2.17 million would be needed to fully complete the building, the finance board now must approve the request before voters are given final say on the matter.

The estimated $7,178,566 renovation plan, as presented to the Board of Selectmen last month, 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; an estimated $40,000 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. Plans are limited to just the ground floor of the building, with the second floor left vacant to possibly be occupied in the future by other town departments.

The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved the additional $2.17 million request at a meeting in June, during which they hailed the proposed renovation plan as urgent and necessary, as well as the best deal for the town, after they described decades of placing the town's police force on "the back burner" to make way for pressing school projects.

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 and which First Selectman Mark Nickerson has argued is not an appropriate work environment. The town also leases holding cell and evidence collection space from Waterford for approximately $46,000 annually because it does not have such space in its current police building.

Should the Board of Finance deny the request, Alberti said the Board of Selectmen will have jurisdiction over whether to scale back project plans or possibly abandon the project. The same would be true if voters reject the vision committee’s request for more money at a referendum.

Registrars Mary Smith and Wendi Sims said by phone Thursday that they have been working closely with the town clerk in recent weeks to prepare for a possible referendum. Smith said the July 30 referendum, should it happen, will be in person, but she and the town clerk are planning a curbside voting option for those uncomfortable voting in person despite several safety measures that will be in place to protect poll workers and voters.

m.biekert@theday.com 

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