‘It Is Falling Apart’: Building Chief Floats $5 Million Estimate for New Canaan Police Department Renovation

The New Canaan Police Department needs extensive interior renovations and overhaul of its heating, HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems—a project that could cost about $5 million, the town’s building chief said Thursday.

That figure is based on a $375-per-square-foot calculation for a South Avenue structure that “is really starting to suffer,” according to Bill Oestmann, superintendent of buildings with the New Canaan Department of Public Works.

“The building is falling apart, literally—the windows are falling out of the building,” Oestmann told the Board of Selectmen during a regular meeting, held at Town Hall.

The town’s fluid 5-year capital plan has a $2 million placeholder in fiscal year 2020 for a windows replacement and wider renovation of the department’s headquarters at 174 South Ave—a 1927-built structure, originally New Canaan High School.

Oestmann during the Police Department’s capital budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 said he would need $250,000 to kickstart the long-postponed renovation process.

“We have to get the programming space figured out, we need to hire some professionals, [get] architects and engineers on board, we have to review the security issues, and what is required by the police and whoever they answer to at the state or federal level,” Oestmann said. “We have to go through the environmental and see what’s in there.”

With a further $250,000 to $300,000, the town could secure a project design and retain a construction manager, though the overall estimated cost may be more depending on what’s required of NCPD in terms of security.

The selectmen asked whether the $5 million proposal encompasses a complete rebuild or refit of the structure (everything is interior except the windows, and it’s not a historical preservation project because it was gutted in 1980 in its conversion from a school facility), whether the police would have to move out (probably—see more on that below), what sort of shape the roof is in (good shape, replaced five years ago), whether an in-house pistol range would be added (that’s a good idea as it could save the town money inside of 10 years because officers now must do that training off-site) and what will happen to the extra space now in the building (it’s often used as storage for the legally required preservation of evidence).

First Selectman Rob Mallozzi asked Oestmann what has changed in the last four or five years “that would make the town want to contemplate this?”

“Tell us what are the drivers, what are the inadequacies—besides the windows—that would drive this type of conversation between the police and town officials?”

Oestmann answered: “First and foremost, on my side, the ADA requirements. Because it does not meet them right now.”

In terms of infrastructure, the department’s inefficient, outdated heating system has new boilers but just one zone, so “one side is cold and one side is overheated,” Oestmann said.

Its electrical system has been worked over so many times that it’s difficult to tell what the buildings various panels are doing, he said.

“I don’t want to speak on behalf of the New Canaan Police Department, but they feel that security is a different world now than it was 5, 10, 15 years ago and they have and some needs there that they would require to protect themselves and protect the community,” Oestmann said.

Selectman Nick Williams said he was concerned about the complications, safety concerns and new costs that could arise with moving a unique department such as the police, which retains offenders, among other activities.

Oestmann responded that Irwin Park is New Canaan’s “swing space” and that a conversation should open up with the department’s administrative, patrol and dispatch personnel about what is feasible.

Mallozzi said that the Police Department’s needs should be vetted “in conjunction with a wider discussion of building uses.”

“This is the right forum to begin that dialogue,” he said.

Mallozzi added that—unlike other town-owned buildings facing expensive capital needs, such as Waveny House, the Playhouse and former Teen Center—“we understand the use” of the Police Department.

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