Selectman Nick Williams on Tuesday voiced strong opposition to a two-year-old idea that appears to still have life to site a new police station along South Avenue where a Saxe Middle School baseball field now stands.
Building a police station on the field adjacent to the New Canaan YMCA “will never happen on my watch,” Williams said during a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.
“We’re not going to take out fields at Saxe school to put in anything,” he said.
The comments came during a discussion of general matters before the town.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan first shared the idea of building a new police station on the field adjacent to the New Canaan YMCA during a press briefing in January 2019 (audio here). Moynihan, who later canceled the press briefings, said the idea originated with Stuart Sawabini, a former chair of the New Canaan Police Commission.
Sawabini now sits as an “advisor” on a Police Department Building Committee that started meeting last December. At the Committee’s first meeting, Sawabini said that if a suitable location could be found, he would prefer to build anew versus renovating the existing structure.
Moynihan earlier this year formed a group of town workers who have been studying the possibility of building anew police station elsewhere in New Canaan, while the Committee itself has been focused on the possibilities of renovation or rebuilding on-site. Moynihan has been tight-lipped about the prospective new locations, withholding the information even from Committee members themselves. (Such groups of municipal employees—without board or commission members present—are allowed to meet out of the public eye, under state law.) Some have voiced frustration over being kept in the dark, and last week Committee member Penny Rashin said her understanding is that the Moynihan group is studying the possibility of siting a new department on school property.
Williams opened the question by reading aloud part of NewCanaanite.com‘s headline, “Moynihan Group Looking To Site New Police Station on School Grounds.”
The first selectman responded, “OK, so we are going to have a conversation at the end of the month coming into September. The Police Department Building Committee has gone through a process with one architect to see what it takes to renovate that building. We have one more piece to do the environmental work there to be sure there are not surprises on the environmental front, and then we will know what that package means in terms of renovating the South Avenue building. The alternative is to build a new building, which is in the eyes of some is a preferable solution for a police department, which these days is a very specialized building and so we are really building it for the next 50 to 100 years.”
When Williams asked for clarification on whether Moynihan was looking out “taking out the baseball field,” the first selectman responded, “That was one location among several. We studied 12 locations and I think we will bring back a discussion, at least, if not a recommendation about the possibility of another location.”
It’s unclear what the potential sites are. Moynihan has said in the past that some of the first 12 locations his group studied were quickly dismissed for different reasons.
Williams told Moynihan that he is a “terrific first selectman” with many ideas, “some good, some bad.”
“I said two years ago this is a dumb idea,” Williams continued.
Moynihan told Williams he understands “where your vote is coming from,” adding that “we will have vote by the town bodies, so that will be a discussion September 7th.” He referred to the date of the next scheduled selectmen meeting.
Williams said in response, “It’s never going to happen as long as I’m a selectman. I can assure you.”
Selectman Kathleen Corbet, also present at the meeting, did not weigh in on the matter.
Town officials have discussed the need to renovate the 1927-built Police Department on South Avenue—originally built as the first New Canaan High School—for many years. The cost originally was pegged at $5 million, then $7 million, then $10 million and, most recently, somewhere in the $14.7 million to $18 million range.
When Moynihan first aired the idea of building a new police station on the Saxe field, in early 2019, he also said a “replacement” baseball field could be built at Kiwanis Park. In a comment posted to NewCanaanite.com he said, in part, that officials from the New Canaan Athletic Foundation were interested in having a new ball field at Kiwanis, though representatives from the organization did not confirm that assertion.
In the same comment, Moynihan said this news outlet had “misreported” the idea that he was pressing the idea of siting a new police station at the Saxe field, adding, “We are a long way from reaching a recommendation about renovation versus relocation because there are several variables still in motion, but I assure you that there will be ample opportunity for community input before a final recommendation is reached.”