Wilton’s Next Big Building Renovation: Steps to 2019 Town Vote on Police/Town Campus
Town leaders have a long-range plan to bring an overarching proposal for renovating the Police/Town Hall Campus to voters in November 2019. At last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, officials heard about the current state of the campus buildings and property from Chris Burney, the director of public works and facilities, as well as about the very early stages for renovation plans from Patti Temple and David Waters, the co-chairs of the Police/Town Campus Building Committee.
Burney painted a clear picture of a campus with buildings in dire need of major overhaul.
- His office is in the final stage of phase one of an environmental site assessment–assessing the grounds, looking for obvious signs of contamination, reviewing town and state records about any possible past tank removals. Initial drafts of evaluations show nothing alarming, including having the drinking water tested.
- Similarly, Burney is starting a survey for hazardous materials in the buildings–looking for usual items like lead and asbestos.
- He is also continuing to look at the Town Hall roof situation, following leaks over the summer. He is working with a consultant, and hoping to have the compromised section of roof over the town’s vault section replaced (about 1,000 sq. ft) by end of October, as he said “You don’t do roofs after Thanksgiving.” He also noted there is one office in the finance department with a small leak he is looking into.
- Burney said he had also just received a report on a survey of electrical systems of town buildings, which he said date back to the 1930s (Town Hall) and the 1940s (Town Hall Annex Building). “The consultant said at one point, ‘I’ve only heard about these kinds of panels, I’ve never actually seen one,'” he said, eliciting chuckles from the BOS members.
The general assessment is that the electrical systems are antiquated and replacement parts are no longer available. While updates that have been made over the years aren’t dangerous, they are unreliable, according to the evaluation. Officials would have to anticipate that any future renovation would involve a total replacement of electrical switch gear and panel boards.
- There are three emergency generators on the property, and all are relatively new (8 years old) and in excellent condition.
- Fire alarm systems are old and “pretty much obsolete” according to Burney.
“What we discovered is confirmation of our suspicions: the systems are old and when we get to the point of construction and renovation, at whatever level, we would be required to upgrade those systems,” Burney said, adding that he reinforced there were no systems that are currently dangerous.
He answered a question about whether or not there was insulation in Town Hall, and noted that there was none in the walls. Because of the masonry-only exterior, he described what it felt like inside a Town Hall room near an exterior wall during the winter: “It’s like sitting next to an open refrigerator door.” He also mentioned leaky, drafty windows and other problems throughout the building.
Burney’s concluding statement was clear: “Everywhere you ask me, I’m going to tell you there’s a problem.”
Building Committee’s Assessment
Committee co-chair Temple asked the BOS members to imagine working in a building where the number of employees had nearly doubled (92%) since it was originally built 44 years ago; a building that had had no electrical system upgrades or any sprinkler system installed whatsoever; a building that had been designed when typewriters were the leading technology, and where employees had to double up in offices built for one, or fit four or more people in a single-person cubicle; a building with hallways that now doubled as office space, and which had been built to accommodate only men–including bathroom space.
“If you can picture yourself in an office building with those kinds of conditions or limitations, then you can get a better idea of what it’s like in the Wilton Police Department building,” she said.
Temple summarized the conditions: “The building is non-compliant with multiple state and federal requirements; has inadequate and mostly original infrastructure; is severely overcrowded; has lavatories and locker rooms with no ventilation; and lockers too small to accommodate each officer’s equipment and uniform; and is the only building in Wilton which operates 24/7, 365 days a year,” she said, (before also acknowledging the fire department’s similar schedule).
She noted Burney’s earlier evaluation before adding that both Town Hall and the Annex building date back to the 1930s and 1940s, are overcrowded and rife with issues.
Waters said that the committee’s assessment reaffirmed the conclusion that the town did not need to relocate and build a new police headquarters somewhere else. As part of the committee’s work it will assess options for renovation on the current campus, among them: building an entirely new building on the campus; renovating current buildings in phased construction (which requires relocating employees temporarily); and demolishing the Annex and Police HQ and adding onto Town Hall to create a much larger building to house all of Wilton’s municipal departments and functions.
Another important consideration, he added, is that Town Hall campus is actually non-conforming to town regulations about land coverage, which means that the footprint of any new police building could not be any larger than it is now without removing any other existing structures. He did say that the committee has determined that the Annex Building is “at the end of its useful life,” and will most likely need to be demolished.
“We’re really are trying to keep open to all possibilities and not go in with blinders on in any particular direction,” Waters said.
The committee has decided to pursue hiring an owner’s representative to help manage the project long-term. They did this primarily because the town currently has Burney in three different positions–facilities director for the town, facilities director for the Wilton School District, and director of the Dept. of Public Works. According to Waters, the committee felt the town had Burney spread too thin to be able to project manage the project.
Vanderslice noted that Burney spent his first year working for the town almost exclusively managing the Miller-Driscoll renovation project. “Certainly, he couldn’t not work full time on this project.”
The co-chairs said that an owner’s representative would also help keep an eye on the project’s overall cost.
Typically, hiring an owner’s representative costs 2-3% of the total project cost, something Waters said was “well worth spending.”
Once the committee issues an RFQ and selects its choice for an owner’s rep, Waters and Temple said they would return to the Board of Selectmen to get formal approval on their choice. He also said the committee hopes to have not only an owner’s rep but also to have selected an architect, and have completed a Statement of Requirements (SOR) by the end of fall.
Beyond that, the committee plans to fully develop a project proposal to bring to a town meeting in November 2019, so that residents could vote during the November 2019 general election on whether or not to approve bonding what’s been proposed. That plan has been okayed by Wilton’s town counsel.
“Hopefully that would encourage enough townspeople to come out and actually express themselves, because we know that is often a problem. The idea of trying to get as much participation as we can–we think that’s a good thing,” Waters said.
Temple said cost is always something the committee has in mind. “We’re looking at everything with a very discriminating eye to see how we can do it better and more cost-effectively.”
The Building Committee has launched a website for the renovation project, with details of the committee’s work. It will continue to be the place for public to find information about the project, including reports and photographs–with an eye toward continued transparency.
“This project is one with genuine, dire needs, and we are working and studying very seriously and thoughtfully to be able to not only understand the problems but justify them to residents and taxpayers, and to address them,” Temple explained.
Waters added that the police department is willing to give a tour of their headquarters and its issues not only to town officials but also to residents.
First selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice expressed her appreciation for the committee’s “outstanding job.”
“I hope everybody was equally impressed by them today and how on top of everything they are. I hope the public watches this so they can have the same level of confidence in the work of your committee.”
Vanderslice also made a specific observation with regard to suggestions some residents have made about moving some police operations to Comstock Community Center as a more cost-effective, alternative solution to addressing police HQ overcrowding. She said Police Chief John Lynch reminded her how the police HQ is a secure building–and that Comstock isn’t.
“If you have the detectives over there, or certain police personnel, you are going to have suspects come in for interviews, and those suspects would be parking their car next to the mother who is taking her kids in, parking next to the seniors going into the senior center. If your kid is on the sidewalk waiting to be picked up, you don’t know who’s coming into that parking lot. When people think about the schools or Comstock, that is a major safety consideration before thinking they have a better plan,” she said.