Chief Lynch OP-ED: Making the Case for New Police HQ
The following is an op-ed from Wilton Police Chief John Lynch.
The Wilton Police Headquarters facility is 42 years old. It was built for an all male police force two-thirds the size of our current force. Most of the building’s infrastructure is original construction.The electrical system is overtaxed. It was not designed to handle today’s technology. The HVAC system is inefficient and operates inconsistently. One part of the building is hot while the other is cold. Maintenance costs continue to increase. The shooting range is not operational due to necessary and costly repairs to the ventilation system.
The building is overcrowded. Closets and storage areas now serve as workspaces. Garage bays serve as storage. When a bay is needed to secure a vehicle as evidence, officers must temporarily relocate the stored items and return them once the vehicle is released. This wastes time, compromises the “chain of custody” and increases the chance of injury. Senior officers double up in offices intended for one. Five sergeants share one desk housed in a room, which serves as the Emergency Management Center, the meeting room and the training room. We provide non-criminal fingerprinting services in the same area where we book and detain criminals. The lavatory facilities are in need of upgrade and expansion. Two men’s toilets are inadequate for a 24 hour building which houses up to 20 men on a shift. There are no public lavatories. The women’s facilities were added by taking storage and hallway space.
The building design is outdated and does not meet many of the state and federal requirements adopted after 1974 when it was built. The building does not provide for the legally required physical separation of juvenile detainees from adult detainees (sight and sound). With no elevator in the two-story building, temporarily disabled employees and disabled members of the public cannot access an entire floor of the building, including the lavatories and emergency operations center. The building design did not account for female officers, the interviewing of multiple suspects and the separation of non-criminal and criminal areas. The fire alarm system is original. There are no fire suppression systems or smoke alarms.
For the last twenty years, thought has been given to upgrading the building, but with other town projects being of a higher priority, we continue to deal with the conditions as best we can. Four years ago, the Town commissioned an architect who performed a needs assessment and developed a cost estimate of $12.7 million for a new building. This year, the Board of Selectmen appointed a committee to work with the Town’s facilities director Chris Burney to develop a plan to address those needs. The expectation is to do so by renovating/expanding the existing facility. For the time being, we are leaving the $12.7 million as a placeholder as we have no additional cost estimates. Development of the project plan will require an engineering assessment of the police building and other Town Campus buildings. An architect will be required to develop conceptual alternatives and cost estimates. Funds could be required to ready other buildings should part or all be used for functions other than their current use.
At the May 2 Annual Town Meeting, the Board of Selectman will present and residents will vote on a bonding resolution of up to $1,266,000 or up to 10% of the current cost estimate. To help inform residents and maintain transparency, the department is holding tours of the building on Tuesday, April 25 and Saturday, April 29 from 9-11 a.m.. Residents are encouraged to ask questions and raise their concerns about the potential project. If you are unable to attend on those dates please feel free to contact the Chief’s office at 203.834.6254 and schedule a time when you are available.