Officials say a group that’s been meeting out of the public eye to identify sites around New Canaan where a new Police Department could go will unveil its findings next month.
Assigned to the task by First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, the group of municipal employees, including representatives from the Department of Public Works, is expected to present to the town-appointed Police Department Building Committee on July 8.
While Moynihan’s staff group has studied possible new sites, the Committee has been working on a possible renovation of the existing Police Department building on South Avenue.
Committee member Jim Beall asked during the Committee’s regular meeting Thursday whether the Moynihan group might share its findings even before the next scheduled meeting on July 8.
“Does it even have to wait until July?” Beall said during the meeting, held via videoconference. “Stuart, what is our expectation? I kind of feel like we are in the dark.”
He referred to Stuart Sawabini, a former Police Commission chair who is advising the Committee as director of New Canaan’s Community Emergency Response Team. Sawabini redirected to the question to Public Works.
Joe Zagarenski, senior engineer with Public Works, said only, “We will have everything ready for July.”
Unlike town-appointed boards and commissions, administrative teams of municipal workers are not required under state sunshine laws to hold their meetings in public.
It isn’t clear what sites the Moynihan group is considering. In February, Moynihan himself spoke in favor of building a new police station somewhere else in town. Two years ago, he floated the idea of building it along South Avenue where a Saxe Middle School baseball diamond now stands. Moynihan has said in the past that the current Police Department building could be converted into senior housing.
Committee members during the meeting said they need more direction in order to pursue an actual building project, and that the public should have a chance to discuss the town’s plans.
“The first thing we have to do is decide what we want to pursue, and then there’s a series of logical steps—confirmation of the architect, start of the detailed design, preparation of the construction documents, going out to bid—all that sequence,” Beall said. “But we need to get to the starting line. We need to outline what has to happen between now and the time we actually decide to start down that process and we are going to need an appropriation at some point for the design and construction phase of the project. And then when we get the bids back, we’ll have another session with the town to get the actual construction costs approved by the town.”
Committee Chair Bill Walbert said, “Right, and enough opportunity for the community to see what is being considered publicly and not just have a quick thing during the summer. They need to digest it and have an appropriate amount of time to think about it. It can’t all happen during August.”
Creating the two “work streams,” as Moynihan calls the separate studies around renovating or rebuilding the police station where it is versus building anew elsewhere in New Canaan, wasn’t the Committee’s idea. At the group’s April 8 meeting, Committee member Penny Rashin asked that past meeting minutes saying “one architect is to perform a site analysis on the existing site and the other architect is to perform analyses on a serious of potential sites in town” be corrected.
“That decision was not made by the Committee,” Rashin noted (the minutes were updated accordingly).
Moynihan himself has been mum on potential locations for a new police station. At the same April 8 meeting, Rashin asked, “On the other sites, are there any sites that you are focusing on now, any preview on that that we should know about?”
In response, Moynihan said only, “No.”
Even after findings are unveiled at the July 8 meeting, it’s not clear whether the Committee will decide on a renovation project at 174 South Ave. versus a new building somewhere else.
Moynihan during a March 9 Board of Selectmen meeting said, “A building committee normally oversees a project. This is unusual in that we are trying to decide where to put it. I think it’s more a town body decision than a building committee. But we can decide that when we get down to May and June and see where we are.”
Even if the decision was to be made by the Board of Selectmen and Moynihan himself wanted to build a new police station elsewhere in New Canaan, it’s not clear the Board would vote for that. Selectman Nick Williams said during the same March meeting that the current Police Department location is the best one for New Canaan’s finest.
During the Committee’s meeting last week, one of the architects working with the town—Brian Humes of Berlin-based Jacunski Humes Architects, LLC—said it would be possible to renovate the existing NCPD headquarters without relocating the entire police force during construction. Irwin Park could be used for some police functions, such as detectives and storage, while a 16- to 17-month renovation project at police headquarters would improve the building’s functionality and efficiency. Humes outlined a proposal that would see gate controls installed at motor vehicle entrances around the police building, as well as a covered carport and standalone five-lane pistol range out back.
Police Chief Leon Kroliowksi, an ex-officio member of the Committee, said the plan outlined by Humans “more than meets our needs, in a lot of different ways.”
“One concern, obviously, is the phased renovation part, which is very challenging, I think,” Krolikowski said. “And I don’t know if it’s going to work. I think we can make it work. I think it will be difficult. Just because I know some condition issues of the building will require complete replacement of systems and idk how we will be able to function. But I trust Brian [Humes]. I trust his expert opinion saying it’s possible. I’m happy with the design, as long as our experts are telling us this is a 50-year plan that’s going to fulfill our needs that long and the building will be in such a state in 40 years that we won’t have to do another complete renovation, perhaps. I don’t know when it’s useful life is going to end. But I think it does meet our needs and fulfill gaps in our training and frankly will help us better train our officers and help morale and all that. So I’m happy with the plan. It’s just a matter of execution I have a few questions about.”
It’s unclear just how much the renovation project would cost.
Walbert said, “We need to make some broader decisions a sa Committee and a community and a town relative to the direction we take before we start fine-tuning the renovation cost.”
Humes noted that the job of a cost estimator for the renovation project is being overseen by the town, not him—a disclosure that appeared to surprise at least some members of the Committee.
Since fiscal year 2019, some $498,000 for engineering and architectural services for the police project have been rolling forward in successive budgets.
Rashin called for a review of just how much money the Committee has under its control “because typically the cost estimator cost we would pay and we would be directing.”
Zagarenski said, “We do have a half-million dollar appropriation and the cost estimator was originally included as a line item of the $50,000 that the Committee approved and we basically just took that money that was already allocated that was going to be through Brian’s contract and we hired him independently, just so we could use him for solutions, even if it be solutions created by the other architects, so that we had one consistent cost estimator.”
Those cost estimator is being paid about $5,000, he said.
Rashin asked that the Committee be kept informed about how the Committee’s funds are being spent.
“We are a town building committee, we are working with the town, but the funds—we need to know where they are going,” she said.
The cost estimator—Newton, Mass.-based FV Consulting LLC—in a May 17 letter to the Board of Selectmen spelled out terms with respect to a potential renovation project. The letter is included in the Board of Selectmen public packet for the June 1 meeting. When NewCanaanite.com made a public record request that day for the same agreement with respect to plans for a new building, town officials said that none existed.
Opened in 1927 as the first New Canaan High School, the police headquarters on South Avenue 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.
The 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.