’It’s Really Not OK’: Finance Board Chair Comes Down on Spending ‘Contingency’ on Police Station Renovation


Rendering of renovated New Canaan Police Station. Specs by Jacunski Humes Architects

The chair of the Board of Finance this week called for the team overseeing the extensive renovation of the New Canaan Police Department to tighten its belt with respect to spending a total of $2.6 million budgeted for contingencies on the project. 

That figure—$700,000 in contingency for Shelton-based Turner Construction, which is providing construction services, plus $1.9 million for the town—only applies to the recently set $20 million guaranteed maximum price for the South Avenue project, not for the full $29 million price tag that also includes soft costs such as insurance and creating a temporary police headquarters, according to finance board Chair Todd Lavieri.

“I really can’t impress upon you enough how important that is not to be spent,” Lavieri told members of the Police Department Building Committee during the Board’s special meeting, held Tuesday night at Town Hall and via videoconference

“We have to be careful that that’s not really kind of code for ‘it’s budgeted for’ ” he continued. “It’s not budgeted for .. and we can have this meeting again in October, and I can bring you the deck that we went through, and it was a $17 million renovation, and it’s now $29 million. I’ve just got to send the message: It’s not there to be spent. I know it’s a contingency. We’ve gotten to be—we get a little careless with that, as if it’s OK. It’s really not OK.”

The comments came following the Committee’s update to the Board.

The project at 174 South Ave.—termed “Town Hall-style,” after a similar one at 77 Main St. eight years ago that included a renovation and addition in back—is on track to start around Thanksgiving, Committee members said. Publicly, the Committee has said the project would be completed in about 18 months, though according to Town Engineer Joe Zagarenski, Turner has committed to 13 months for construction.

Regarding contingency, Committee Chair Bill Walbert told the finance board that Turner’s $700,000 contingency could be spent “if they’re falling behind schedule, there’s overtime, there’s three feet of snow on the ground—that kind of thing.”

Regarding the town’s $1.9 million contingency, Walbert said, “We hope that’s going to be enough.”

“As we all know, this is a refurbishment of a very, very old building,” he said. “And we don’t know what we don’t know. We’ve certainly poked and prodded it for a long period of time, but things can happen. I’m not going to look any of you in the eye and say we’re not going to be surprised—of course we will be with something. But, as far as the planning stage is concerned, the plan is still good and on schedule and ahead of budget and ahead of time, but it’s still—like I said—it’s just a plan. But so far everything we’ve done, the numbers are coming in as expected.”

During a subsequent question-and-answer session, Lavieri said, “I want to be careful. You were a little cavalier there about the contingency … It’s a lot of money. We have a history of having it as a contingency and using it as our expense.”

First Selectman Kevin Moynihan noted that the Committee opted to redo the roof on the building, which is 11 years old, so that the town wasn’t building what is “basically a brand new building” with an old roof on it.

The “synthetic slate” roof will cost $325,000, Zagarenski said.

Walbert said, “The Building Committee voted to do that, and we got the sense from the Town Council and others that it was a direction they would like to see us go. But that money, that extra $325,000, came out of our contingency already. And that gets us down to the $1.9 million contingency.”

Moynihan also noted that the Committee hasn’t yet looked for removing items to bring the project cost down—or “value engineering”—because “there’s been no need to yet.”

Lavieri responded “the need is now.”

Board of Finance member Chris LeBris noted that New Canaan Library “saved themselves millions of dollars” through value engineering.

Lavieri said a good “takeaway” from the meeting could be to pursue a half-million dollars of savings.

Committee member Amy Murphy Carroll, who also serves on the finance board, said there could be cost-savings in “tech.”

“The tech numbers keep dropping,” she said.

“I think it’s important to realize that in terms of the exposure, it is an old building,” she said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, you guys, but once we get through opening up [the building], then we’ll know. We’ll know that there’s no big surprises there, right? Because again, we’re trying to deliver a renovated-as-new building that’s 100 years old. right? So in terms of where we might get surprised, it will be opening stuff up.”

Lavieri said the Board understands that and called for another update from the Committee within six months. 

5 thoughts on “ ’It’s Really Not OK’: Finance Board Chair Comes Down on Spending ‘Contingency’ on Police Station Renovation

  1. The police department is an integral and very important part of our town. I happen to think our police do a great job protecting us and deserve the best, whether it be technology, equipment, etc. Value engineering gave us a forty million dollar library, so I don’t know how well it worked in that instance. Please discuss any deviation from the present plans with the police department. You wouldn’t want to eliminate something very important to their day to day operations due to the implementation of value engineering. The police need to have their voices heard also, and should be an integral part of this planning process.

  2. Thank you Mr. Lavieri. Finally, a New Canaan town official poses the challenge to “spend less”. Figure it out. That is what professional business people do. Drive for and insist on efficiency. Taxes in New Canaan are outrageous and elderly are being priced-out. Give town departments a budget reduction target of 1 or 2 percent. Creative managers can figure it out. PLEASE.

  3. New Canaan’s town spending per resident is consistently in the top 3 — and usually in the top 2 — of all towns in Connecticut. BOE spending per student has grown at an average rate of over 4% a year over the last twenty plus years, with union contract wage/benefit increases accounting for a sizable portion of that increase without any meaningful offsets in expense reductions. All of this is despite town leaders generally identifying as “fiscal conservatives.” That isn’t true, and it’s comical that the two first selectmen candidates are trying to market themselves as such when their records tell a different story. The possibility of value engineering a renovated police building is small potatoes relative to the size of New Canaan’s overall budget. If one cares a lot about fiscal moderation New Canaan is unlikely to offer it. If one is indifferent to superfluous spending and its impact on higher taxes as long every want is satisfied you may have found the right place. It should go without saying that continued inefficient spending policies will inhibit greater socioeconomic diversity in town.

  4. The BOF and the Building Committee are on the same page. We want to deliver a police building for the next fifty years, with the least cost. Thank you Todd for highlighting the importance of “sharpening the pencil” in all stages of this project. Also, thank you Michael for your accurate reporting. Well done.

  5. It must be election time. It is best practice to have contingency for all construction projects. It is what all projects must carry as a line item especially in a renovation A contingency has been used at the new Canaan library, the high school renovation, the New Canaan YMCA, the Maritime Aquarium and all professionally managed projects. This is why you have a skilled and knowledgeable building committee already in place and a skilled construction manager to have oversite.Let’s review some Town projects that have previously gone off the rails and see if they had the proper setup. If this project had not been delayed by a certain selectman— it would have cost our residents less money. Let’s not waste money like we did years ago on a elementary school when we did a piece of the roof— and then spend twice the money after the leak
    You want to flex your over-site muscle- Let’s talk movie theater

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