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This online report was modified from the print version to remove an incorrect reference to a pending Board of Finance action.
The hazy concept of a new Newtown Police headquarters that has drifted out along the horizon for two decades came into crisp focus during a special meeting June 26, as selectmen unanimously endorsed a design concept and approved acquiring two parcels and a building they hope to see renovated for a right-sized public safety facility.
The selectmen’s acquisition approval for the lot and former Taunton Press administrative offices at 191 South Main Street and an abutting parcel with a home at 61 Pecks Lane that would presumably be razed is just the first step in a long process that will require a purchase authorization from the Board of Finance and the Legislative Council before going to voters as a likely Election Day ballot measure, November 6.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said the two properties are owned by the Roman family, who established the Taunton Press locally. He said if the acquisition is approved by the finance board and council, the sellers have agreed to delay closing until after the referendum that will either authorize or reject the purchase.
A team from Kaestle Boos Associates was on hand for the first public presentation on the proposed facility. Todd Costa, who heads up the company’s Public Safety Division, and Luke McCoy, a landscape architect, handled most of the narration and fielded a few questions.
Project principle Scott Mangiagli and firm partner Charlie Boos were also present, along with Police Chief James Viadero, Captain Christopher Vanghele, and Police Commissioners Joel Faxon and Brian Budd.
A number of police department personnel in and out of uniform, more than a dozen members of the community, and State Representative Mitch Bolinsky also attended.
The project architects led the presentation by indicating the firm was hired to help rank and qualify the best potential site among four that were suggested for the proposed headquarters.
The eventually approved site that was referred to by its address of “191” was ranked the highest, Mr McCoy said. A second site that would have combined the headquarter’s present location and the adjacent Pleasance park at Main and Sugar Streets (owned by Scudder Smith Family Association, which also owns and operates The Newtown Bee) was ranked second.
A Fairfield Hills location that would have required remediating and demolishing the sprawling Cochran House on Mile Hill Road South ranked third, and a fourth site southwest of the intersection of Wasserman Way and Nunnawauk Road, initially under consideration, was eventually rejected because elevations and topography would have been too complex and costly to prepare for a new commercial building.
Mr McCoy said the 191 site was the only one that offered the opportunity to renovate an existing building that Mr Rosenthal later told The Newtown Bee was in excellent condition with well-kept and usable utility and IT infrastructure already in place. That site would provide a visitor parking lot, a separate gated and fenced area to park department personnel and official vehicles, and an impound lot.
Each of the three ranked site plans also included a separate 7,000 square foot training building that would house a department firing range.
Building The Plan
Mr Costa said his team met with police personnel to determine space needs to begin formulating building and site specifications for things like a community room, communications center, prisoner processing and detention space, along with administrative offices, training and records rooms, and staff offices for patrol officers, supervisors, and detectives.
Preliminary cost options were presented for a facility with and without the separate training building and range. The bottom line for the facility with the training building, or Option 1A, totaled $20,193,472, including the $1.6 million property purchase, while the cost dropping the secondary building in Option 1B topped out at $14,805,674.
Both options, as well as cost parameters for the other two considered sites, also included multiple contingency funds — approximately $933,000 for Option 1A and approximately $667,000 for Option 1B. Mr Costa said there were also projected material and labor escalations applied that account for potential tariffs and taxes that could emerge before construction commences.
Mr Rosenthal said the early phase conceptual design was estimated at more of a “worst case scenario” versus “best case,” where value engineering might produce measurably better savings.
“Our purpose tonight is to select the path and what we think is the best site that delivers what the men and women of the police department need,” he said. “We’re not deciding tonight whether we will have a range or not have a range. And there’s still an appropriation process, so I don’t want anyone to feel there will be no more public discussion on this project after this evening.”
The new main headquarters would ideally be about 26,000 square feet. To put that in perspective, Mr Rosenthal reminded the board and attendees that the current police facility at Town Hall South is about 8,000 square feet.
“If you compare it to the [police headquarters] project Bethel is building, Newtown has 45 sworn officers, and Bethel, I believe, has 37,” the first selectman said. “And Bethel is building a comparatively sized facility to what we are building.”
Optional Parcel Reviews
In touching upon the other parcels, Mr McCoy said the ranked Fairfield Hills site would require nearly $5 million razing of the existing building and would put the new headquarters in close proximity to ball fields, walking trails, and the new community center.
“The demo costs with the range pushes [that site option] to over $25 million,” Mr Rosenthal said, and $21.1 million without the training building.
The 3 South Main Street situation would require the demolition of the current Town Hall South building and would locate a two-story building on the corner where the current park is located, with parking to be designed on the parcel that contained the former headquarters.
That site offered increased wetlands challenges and would cause the department to require some temporary housing while the new building was finished and the parking lot was completed in the area of the former building — contributing to increased costs.
Mr Costa said after all was said and done, his company’s assessments indicated the best value for the town was the parcel at 191 South Main, and it met proposed budget parameters.
Chief Viadero said it was a long road to get to the presentation that was happening June 26, and it is clear that the current headquarters sit has long been inadequate for what the community and its officers needs and deserves.
The chief said the positives of the 191 site quickly became apparent, and it would provide a facility the department and community could be proud of and a site that would permit the officers to serve the community better. He also addressed concerns about the proposed parcel not being centrally located, saying, “We are not like fire departments; our officers are out patrolling their districts.”
Chief Viadero added that he had growing concerns about the proximity of the proposed Fairfield Hills site to public and youth recreation facilities. He also mentioned that the 191 site was the only one that would permit expansion if the department had to grow in the future.
Police Commissioner Faxon said the community has needed a proper police facility for decades. He said he understood the desire to have centralization at Fairfield Hills.
“But the idea of having criminals brought in where children, including my children, are playing baseball next door is disconcerting to me,” he said, adding that it is more desirable to have a facility that can be more remote from pedestrian traffic and children.
Commissioner Faxon said there would be long-term cost savings to have a shooting range on site as well, and placing that either at the Fairfield Hills or Main Street site would provide numerous issues.
Mr Costa said a fair portion of the 191 site is reusable, and by having structure to gut and rehab versus building from scratch, it consolidates the construction timeline; there would be no weather-related issues to developing the facility.
Upon conclusion of the presentation, Selectmen Maureen Crick Owen and Jeff Capeci each expressed they would support the 191 site and proceeded to make it official by casting a unanimous vote recommending the town acquire the two parcels.