The town’s legislative body on Wednesday night approved a $500,000 bonding package designed to help plan for a renovation of the New Canaan Police Department, though the municipality’s highest elected official said the question of whether or not to follow through with the project is uncertain.
Even though members of the Town Council at their regular meeting voted 12-0 to approve funds for design, engineering and consulting services for police headquarters, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan told NewCanaanite.com during an interview prior to the meeting that he was “intrigued” by the prospect of relocating the New Canaan Police Department to a prominent office building on Elm Street, negating the need for that renovation.
Unimin first put put its building at 258 Elm St.—on the corner of Grove Street, overlooking the Lumberyard Lot—on the market 18 months ago. The industrial mineral producer has said it employs 100 to 110 people in the structure.
“I am intrigued by the Unimin building but we don’t know yet whether it could accommodate a Police Department,” Moynihan said.
The CEO of Unimin could not be reached for comment on the matter. Moynihan said the company’s plans for the property are in flux.
“It’s all up in the air, but in the meantime we have to decide next week how to proceed [with the Police Department] so we will talk about putting together a building committee,” Moynihan said.
He added that he didn’t know at this time “what their [Unimin officials’] plans are or if they could rule it [a sale] out.”
The company has owned the 1983-built, 27,968-square-foot office building since 1993, tax records show. It paid $2,862,000 for it. The .66-acre lot and structure last were assessed at nearly $5.8 million. It has underground parking.
Built in 1926, the brick building at 174 South Ave. opened the following year as the original New Canaan High School. (Four years later, a junior high high school was built next-door in the same style, now the Schoolhouse Apartments.)
Moynihan’s comments on the Unimin building come as the town grapples with its ownership—and in many cases, associated maintenance costs—of more than 50 buildings. A committee that studied those buildings for much of last year published a report in December that discovered, among other things, that funding should be provided to start the much-needed renovation of Police headquarters, and that space should be found in an existing town-owned building for the Board of Education, which currently rents its space downtown at a clip of $300,000 annually.
Asked about the prospect of the Board of Ed also moving into the Unimin building, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi confirmed in an email that it has been mentioned, though “I believe we are just at the initial stages of exploring this as a possible option for the location of the Board of Education offices.”
“The Board and administration look forward to working with the town to investigate this as a possibility, as we are interested in investigating all possibilities that could maintain, or even enhance, district central office operations while providing savings in the Board’s budget,” he said.
Moynihan himself initially had proposed renovating NCPD and installing the Board of Ed on its upper floor.
Many in town have expressed reservations about New Canaan acquiring additional properties, especially since the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee’s finding last year that some 20 percent of space in town-owned buildings now is unused.
During Wednesday’s Town Council meeting, councilmen appeared to refer coyly to the Unimin building without mentioning it or its address specifically.
Councilman Cristina A. Ross asked why, if the town is looking at or pursuing another building, it would appropriate funds for the engineering studies for the current Police Department.
Moynihan, who attended the meeting (and cast a tie-breaking vote on another matter) said, “The first step is to appoint a building committee so you begin to evaluate something. We do not know that there is another building to evaluate. So until that is clear we are focused on the Police Department building.”
Councilman Penny Young said that the language in the resolution before the Town Council referred only to “police station renovation.”
“So it could be anywhere,” she said.
It isn’t clear what the plan would be for the current NCPD headquarters in the event of a property acquisition and relocation.