The appointed body charged with planning for a new police station will start by researching whether it’s more prudent to renovate or build anew on-site or elsewhere in town, members said Thursday.
At their first meeting, members of the Police Department Building Committee noted that occupying a structure while it’s being renovated presents practical problems, and that it costs $1 million or more to move a large part of a police force into a separate facility temporarily during construction.
Stuart Sawabini, a former Police Commission chair who is advising the Committee as director of New Canaan’s Community Emergency Response Team, said that if a suitable location could be found, “my personal choice would be to build new.”
“The efficiency of the building is far greater when you have spaces that are purpose-specific,” Sawabini said during the meeting, held via videoconference. “So building a new building means you are designing it with only the items you really want in it. As compared to renovating a building where there’s bound to be spaces that are allocated to a prior use which the Police Department may not be able to utilize. A simple example of that would be, the current has got stairwells which are massive. I mean wide, large stairwells. But of course it was designed for a school. So the Police Department really need stairwells that are as massive as they are. So any time you take a building and renovate it, you are not going to get the efficiency out of the building as you would like. So my first choice would be to go for a new building. That being said, the challenge is: where?”
Appointed last month, the Committee will be charged with answering that question if it decides that constructing a new Police Department headquarters is the best course. The current building on South Avenue, opened in 1927 as the first New Canaan High School, is inefficient and has failing systems, officials have said. The New Canaan Police Department got its last major renovation in 1981. Officials have called for a project there for years. In 2017, a panel that studied and made recommendations about town-owned buildings in New Canaan said the town should fund architectural and engineering needed for renovations.
A co-chair of that panel, Amy Murphy Carroll, is a regular member of the new Committee. Others include Paul Foley, Paul Tully, Bill Walbert, Jim Beall, Michael Chen and Penny Rashin. The group includes representatives from bodies such as the Police Commission and Boards of Finance and Education, though no Town Council members. Non-voting members include Police Chief Leon Krolikowski, Deputy Chief John and Capt. Andrew Walsh.
According to Sawabini, the Committee may consider new construction “behind the current building.”
“You can tear down the existing building and build it there, or you could build new behind the existing building,” Sawabini said. “I had suggested just as a brainstorm—and I don’t understand all the details needed to walk and talk this one forward—but again, just as a brainstorm, there is a living facility behind the existing building. Could we find another alternative and move those residents to another location and then be able to have that area as well as the existing building area to build new? There are lots of different ways one could roll that forward. I’m not suggesting there is an good way necessarily, but those are possibilities.”
According to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, based on past architectural reviews and the cost of new police departments in the area, a new police station will take about $20 million to build.
Moynihan said, “We are going to have to build a first-class building and you can’t do it on the cheap.”
Committee members agreed.
Chen said, “We need this building and we need to spend the right money.”
The Committee reviewed the history of renovations at the current South Avenue police headquarters, spotlighted major capital projects in New Canaan since the last substantial renovation of NCPD (for example, New Canaan Emergency Medical Services, Town Hall, Saxe Middle School and Waeny Pool), discussed the pros and cons of sharing a nearby police shooting range versus building a new one in New Canaan (a $1 million-plus item) and listed problems with the current structure (electrical, plumbing, heating/cooling, fixtures and other infrastructure).
There’s about $498,000 available for engineering and architectural services for the police project, according to Public Works Director Tiger Mann—funds that have rolled forward from fiscal year 2019.
Sawabini said financial considerations include whether, if the Committee decides to build a new police station elsewhere in town, sale of the current building to a real estate developer would be viewed as an offset to the cost.
The Committee agreed to draw up a “requirements document” for a future police department building, tour newly built and renovated area police facilities, discuss in more depth two leading candidates for architect on the project and to elect officers, draft a project timetable and start forming subcommittees at a future meetings.
The police building was designed in 1926 by John Nobel Pierson and Son, Architects, of Perth Amboy, NJ. The same architectural firm was again selected in 1932 for its neighbor, the former Junior High School, now the Schoolhouse Apartments.