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East Lyme officials pin hopes on temporary fix for public safety building

East Lyme — Supply chain issues affecting the planned roof replacement of the public safety building are the latest impediment in a renovation project that continues to be a political lightning rod in town.

The Town Building Committee, general contractor, architect and town officials were moving toward a late-summer completion date for the long-awaited and controversial project. Plans were set back by a series of roof leaks in the communications room.

Now the voter-approved, federally funded $200,000 roof replacement is not likely to happen until March, because raw materials are currently unavailable due to the pandemic, Town Building Committee Chairman Ray O'Connor said. In the meantime, committee members last week approved allocating $11,679 for a drain pan and gutter system that O'Connor described as a "temporary barrier" so staff can move in by November or early December.

The town's 24-officer police force currently is housed in a small building on Main Street with long-standing structural and water damage that has been exacerbated by recent storms.

The roof replacement appropriation came on top of the $7.2 million already authorized for the project, made up of an original $5 million authorization in early 2019 and another $2.2 million last fall for the West Main Street building that will serve as a hub for the town's police operations, dispatch center, fire marshal's office and emergency operations center.

"It was a question of waiting until March to put the IT equipment under a new roof or to put the equipment under the old roof and put in a temporary barrier, like a false roof, to contain any potential leaks and divert them away from the equipment," O'Connor said.

The idea was proposed by the committee and project architects from Silver/Petrucelli + Associates, according to O'Connor. He said the project is not guaranteed by contractor Noble Construction & Management of Centerbrook, which means there is the potential for damage to the equipment if the roof fails in that area.

The communications room will hold about $200,000 worth of new communications equipment that is sensitive to moisture, O'Connor said. He said there are not currently any leaks in the room but "there's the potential."

He said there seems to be a new leak every time it rains, though not necessarily in the IT room.

East Lyme police Chief Mike Finkelstein was not at last week's building committee meeting due to family commitments, but said this week he will move forward when he is assured the temporary solution provides the necessary protection to keep the equipment safe and dry.

Finkelstein has been on record saying he would not be comfortable installing electronics without a roof replacement. He also has been adamant that the officers need to get out of their current building, which he described as inefficient, insufficient and unsafe.

Finkelstein said he relies heavily on the building committee, architects and general contractor for their recommendations regarding any temporary fix because his business is policing, "not water mitigation and construction."

He cautioned multiple vendors, including the state and AT&T, also will have a role in deciding whether their equipment will be safe in the new space.

"In my mind, it would be a horrible option to say wait for the roof," Finkelstein said. Like O'Connor, he blamed global supply chain issues trickling down to the local level.

"In the interim, I guess I say we need to move out of the situation we're in," he said. "We need to move forward and get into the building."

Issue prompts political wrangling

According to First Selectman Mark Nickerson, a certificate of occupancy is likely to be issued by the building department within 30 days, though it will take some time to prepare the building for inhabitants.

"We're confident we're going to be able to move into the building, and we'll get a new roof on that building in the spring months," he said.

Finance board Chairwoman Camille Alberti, who is also a first selectman candidate, has been critical of the project for several years. After attending last week's building committee meeting via Zoom, she told The Day that concerns she expressed at the town meeting on the roof replacement are coming to fruition.

"I said, 'Look, the last thing I want is the police to move from one mold-infested building into another,'" she said of the town meeting. "I think that was not well received."

The voice vote from roughly 70 people at the town meeting passed decisively enough not to require a hand vote.

Alberti lost to Nickerson two years ago in the race for first selectman and is running this time around against Republican Deputy First Selectman Kevin Seery.

Earlier this summer, Alberti and Finance Board Democratic Vice Chairman Ann Cicchiello, who is running alongside Alberti for selectman, voted against the motion to send the roof replacement to town meeting in the first place.

Alberti questioned the wisdom of moving expensive equipment and personnel into the building before the roof is fixed.

Committee members last week approved the leak protection system for the IT room as well as $9,727 in waterproofing of the eastern interior wall to address what project architect Steve June described in the minutes as "a good amount of mold." Members also approved $3,095 to activate the HVAC system to alleviate abnormally moist conditions and "to keep mold in check," the minutes said. The committee allocated $1,285 for a video inspection of a footing drain that turned out to have a broken pipe, which was subsequently fixed by the Public Works Department.

Members also brought up drainage issues around the foundation, but did not allocate any funds to address the issue.

Alberti alleged the committee is rushing to finish the project ahead of the November election.

"Come hell or high water, no pun intended, they want to get (Nickerson) to cut the ribbon before he leaves office," she said, referencing comments she heard at last week's meeting.

The Day has not been able to access a recording of the Zoom meeting despite multiple attempts.

Nickerson on Thursday scoffed at Alberti's criticism of the decisions made by the committee in consultation with project engineers, the contractor and department heads.

"A housewife, someone not in the building trades, is telling builders that they're doing it wrong," he said. "These people do this for a living. They know what they're doing."

He noted the mold issue is being addressed by the HVAC system activation. He reiterated that the leaks in the IT room have stopped and that leaking in other areas is "minimal."

He described the temporary fix as "kind of an interior secondary roof" that is used in other government and commercial buildings.

"We're going to do this right and we're going to do this as quickly as possible but we're not going to cut corners," he said. "This project has never been about me. It's been about finally putting our public safety personnel and department in the proper buildings. And we will."

Alberti, in a response to The Day about the housewife comment, said statements like that help expose "the true uncivil discourse our townspeople have had to endure for many years."

"A contracting license is not required to understand the nonsensical approach to renovating the interior of a building before replacing a leaky roof, and before mitigating drainage issues resulting from a rising water table," she said.

She described the temporary roof fix as another example "of complete mismanagement by the current administration."

Seery, the Republican candidate for first selectman, said he will support moving in before the roof is replaced if "there's a high degree of certainty" the temporary measures will keep the equipment safe. He said he would look to the general contractor, the architect and the building inspector for that assurance.

"We're very close to being finished here," Seery said. "I would not want to move into the building if there was any concern on anybody's part that there could be a failure of this temporary fix, because that would have a lot of adverse effects."

e.regan@theday.com

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