New Canaan finance board shocked by new police building price

NEW CANAAN — The total price of the proposed new police department headquarters is going up, and some town officials are a bit taken aback.

Board of Finance members listened to building plans Tuesday with an important additional note that the project would total at least $5 million more than the last estimate of $20.2 million.

The new range showed a low estimate $25.6 million and high of $28.5 million for a 32,000 square foot renovated building, as presented by the police building committee. The new plans call for keeping much of the 96-year old building envelope, knocking down the antique anterior edition and replacing it with a new section.

Chairman Todd Lavieri noted that, since the building committee was started in Nov. 2020, the first estimate was for $17 million. Then, it was increased to $21 million. Now, the total may top out just under the $30 million mark.

“We were all mentally thinking in the teens and now we’re almost at $30 million, so you can understand a little of the sticker shock,” Lavieri said.

The new addition account for about 25 percent of the completed space and is being blamed for inflating the price tag. After a preliminary design, the building committee realized “the back of it is kind of a disaster and it is not working very well, so we went back to the architect and took some of the constraints off them,” building committee member Amy Murphy Carroll said.

The committee is expected to return in August with a request for $1.1 million to create new building designs, which are expected to give more definitive pricing.

Brian Humes, owner of Jacunski Humes Architects, the firm chosen for the project earlier this month, explained the benefits of the new plan. The firm has also headed police building projects in Wilton, Weston, Monroe, Stamford, Darien and Bethel.

One of the improvements would be the addition a sallyport, the bay where an individual in custody is brought into the station in the police car. The current building has one sallyport which Humes said is very undersized, fits only one vehicle and has height limitations.

The revised scheme calls for two sallyports, which are designed to fit ambulances and other emergency vehicles sometimes needed to transport people in custody. There will also be three bays for storage, instead of two, which can be used for vehicle processing, bulk evidence, found property and department equipment.

Humes expects the new plans will improve efficiency and safety when processing prisoners.

“Officer safety for me is paramount,” he said. “Accidents primarily happen in areas of prisoner processing, prisoner holding or prisoner transport. We have to look at a facility that provides the greatest amount of safety for the officers.”

Since the addition will actually make the footprint smaller than the present building, the architects will be able to reconfigure the site plan, which will improve circulation of vehicles entering and exiting the property. The site plan is being evaluated and is expected to improve movement for police, EMS, the Schoolhouse Apartments and the day care center on the property, Humes said.

The new plan would allow the department to have related functions adjacent to each other, such as having the enlarged locker rooms next to the physical training room. The addition will also be constructed consistent with current codes, therefore, improving energy efficiency.

In explaining the inflated price, building committee members compared the new project with the renovation of Town Hall, comparing building costs.

Town Hall was renovated from 2013 to 2015 and is considered a comparable project since both feature preserving historical elements of the building while adding infrastructure. Town Hall is 35,000 square feet and had a 10,000 square foot addition. The new police building will be 32,000 square feet with a 25 percent addition of the new facility.

Building committee chairman Bill Walberg said construction costs have increased by 43 percent since 2014, according to analysis he did using the Turner Non-Residential Construction Index. The Town Hall project, which cost $18 million nearly a decade ago, would be closer to $26 million if it were done today, he projected.

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