Mark Nickerson - First Selectman
FROM: THE DAY
East Lyme police building architect explains $5.8 million estimate at selectmen’s meeting
Published October 17. 2019 By Mary Biekert Day staff writer
East Lyme — With concerns escalating in recent weeks that renovation costs for the proposed public safety building would soar much higher than what the town had approved, the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday agreed to listen to an explanation of the costs from the architect hired to design the project, who said he was confident that facility would come in on budget and within the desired scope promised to town residents.
Principal architect William Silver of Silver/Petrucelli + Associates, the contracted architects for the project, explained to the board that the “needs assessment” for the building, as well as the first “conceptual design,” presented at a Public Safety Building Vision Committee on Sept. 26 was just the first phase of a multiple-step process between architects and the Vision Committee — a "planning tool" to begin the process.
He added that the $5.8 million price estimate was presented to “show the big picture” of the project, “to give you a sense of what the total responsibilities in the long run are going to be involved.”
“We knew right from the start, and it was clearly communicated in the Request for Proposal, that the budget was $1.7 million and we are going to meet $1.7 million,” Silver said. “Part of an (architect and engineer’s) responsibility in these studies is not just to give you the limited information of what there is to meet your budget, but to show you the big picture.”
Voters in a February referendum approved spending up to $5 million to purchase and renovate the former 30,000-square-foot Honeywell office building at 277 West Main St. into a consolidated space that would host a new police facility, as well as the town’s dispatch center, fire marshal’s office and emergency operations center.
Having closed on the building in May for around $2.77 million, the town is left with an approximate $2.23 million budget for repurposing the building as a public safety facility — $1.7 million of which will be used exclusively for renovations, while the remaining $500,000 will be used to install communications wiring in the building, First Selectman Mark Nickerson said.
But after architects Silver/Petrucelli+Associates presented that the cost of those renovations could cost as much as $5.8 million at the Sept. 26 Public Safety Building Vision Committee — $3.6 million more than provided by the approved bond issue — many townspeople, as well as some town officials, have expressed worry that the project will not come in on budget, or if it did, whether it would include the necessary elements needed for a quality police building.
Silver noted Wednesday that last month’s preliminary presentation was not initially supposed to be made as part of a public meeting and that such presentations typically aren’t made public so early in the process.
“We had not even yet met with the committee and were surprised that it was a public forum,” Silver said. “It was our error for showing the big picture so prematurely to a process that normally works with a committee through multiple meetings. I can almost assure that we would have ten meetings of preliminary planning where the committee and the architects and engineers all work together to scope the project to meet the problematic needs but to also meet the budget.”
“We were surprised and probably should have guarded our remarks,” Silver said. “… Our goal is to get the police department, the EOC, the fire marshal, dispatch, all under one roof in an adequate space that will serve them for the next 20 years plus and we are confident that we are doing that.”
In response to Silver’s comments, Nickerson said he believed that some Vision Committee members may not have understood that this first presentation was a typical beginning point of the planning process.
Selectman and Vision Committee chair Paul Dagle reiterated Silver’s points, saying the presentation and the initial estimates, “was the first in many, many steps.”
“We are only at the concept phase right now,” Dagle said, before explaining that in the time since, the Vision Committee has already identified some areas to scale back on or reconfigure, stating that police services will be designed to only inhabit the first floor of the building, instead of being spread across two floors, thereby saving money.
“We are very confident that we will achieve a design that will serve the purpose and functionality for the organizations we will put in this public safety building, and we will be able to do it at budget,” Dagle said. “We have a ways to go. There will be give and takes.”
Dagle also mentioned that he and some committee members, as well as architects, met Monday evening to further clarify and discuss plans. Nickerson said to The Day Tuesday the meeting was held privately.
Dagle and Nickerson added that as part of the architectural design phase, the committee will request designs for the sally port and holding cell area of the building and will also obtain a “hard construction” cost for those proposed areas when the Vision Committee goes out to bid for the renovations with a contractor.
Dagle said that with those hard, “quantifiable numbers,” the Vision Committee, as well as townspeople, will then make a conscious decision on whether to build that part of the project into the police building now, or wait until a later time.
According to Silver’s preliminary plans, the sally port and holding cell area was estimated to cost a little more than a $1 million.
Selectman Rose Ann Hardy said she still worried the project would resemble the high school expansion project completed about two decades ago, which she said “was underbid to begin with” and did not include everything it needed when being built.
“I don’t want that to happen to this building,” she said. “I think the public has a right to know what they are not going to get for the money that was budgeted, what’s being eliminated, so that we aren’t nickeled and dimed to death for the next twenty years trying to make up for what we didn’t do in the first place.”
Let’s call a TIME OUT!
Let’s all take a step back and review the Public Safety Building issue.
For too long our town has politicized the subject of building a Public Safety building. Two failed projects over the past two decades have resulted in our first responders working in sub-par conditions. Town residents and board and commission members toured the current building on Main Street. They were appalled by what they found. Yet the dedicated men and women who protect our town kept soldiering on, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty five days a year. We owed it to them to give them a building that was healthy, safe and secure.
I’ve said this before…we should not have had this problem in 2019. This Public Safety Building should have been built 16 years ago. Wayne Fraser brought a proposal forward that would have been the first of its kind…a combined municipal, state and federal facility for our police, emergency management and dispatchers. While no plan is perfect, the Board of Finance rejected the plan before the voters even had a chance to vote.
A couple of years later, former First Selectman Beth Hogan brought forward a plan for a new facility that would have cost the taxpayers $14m for a state of the art building. That building in today’s money would be closer to $25m. The issue was hotly debated; the proposal moved to a town-wide vote and was defeated twice via referendum mostly because of its size and cost. Had the project been scaled down to a more reasonable facility, I believe it would have passed.
Fast forward 12 years.
My job is to solve problems not play the political game. It would have been much easier to kick this can down the road and do nothing. With the police still in a temporary facility that was never designed, never renovated, never meant to be used as a public safety facility, I had an opportunity to solve this lingering problem.
I was given information that the Honeywell Corporation wanted to sell their East Lyme property and consolidate their operation with their Branford facility. I assembled a task force of experts to consider this plan and weigh it against other possible options for a new or renovated facility in our town. The Honeywell building was deemed to be well-built with plenty of space, and had a lay-out that would be ideal with minor renovations.
Prior to the referendum, an architect experienced in police station design was brought on board on a pro-bono basis and asked to estimate the cost to move the operation to this facility. The intention was never to gut the building and have it fully renovated as new. The request was to do it as cost effectively as possible. The estimated total cost for acquisition and renovation was $6M.
Town residents voted overwhelmingly at referendum to acquire the building and renovate it for use a police station. At that point, a public safety vision committee comprised of community volunteers was formed to design the facility. They toured other local facilities and came up with a plan on the necessary requirements. They put together a competitive bid process to select an architect and vetted each applicant fully. Silver/Petrocelli was awarded the bid and they began the formal design phase.
In order to fully understand the renovation necessary of this building, Silver/Petrocelli did a comprehensive facility review of the building. This is typically done when renovating a building. (For an example, when Lillie B Haynes was being considered for renovation, the architects came up with a plan that would have cost over $40m for “renovate-as-new”. We just finished the renovation and it cost the town $12.5m). They made a report to the Vision Committee of a $5.8m renovation.
That cost is virtually a “renovate-as-new” price tag. The committee isn’t considering that plan nor were they authorized to spend that money, but the work needed to be done so the architect could get a handle on the project. The committee, the architect, the department heads and I are all committed to moving into this facility for the authorized price. That means the Vision Committee has a little over $2.2m for the renovation including the communications portion of the project.
Remember that the Board of Finance (BOF) reduced the price of the project by $1m. This will cut out an important piece of the needs assessment…the holding cells and sally port. It was the BOF’s opinion that because the project lacked specific details when presented with the opportunity to buy the building, the committee could come back through the appropriations process and ask for the additional money for necessary add-ons. This was not my plan nor the plan or intention of the task force that put this plan together. That said, I am still confident that the original plan for $6m was the right number.
A formal renovation plan is being prepared by the architect and will be presented to the vision committee this week or next. I am hopeful that this will clear up the assumptions and confusion that tends to circulate on social media forums. As always, I would be willing to meet with any one person or any group to discuss the facts. 860-691-4110.
East Lyme officials review scaled-back police building plans
Published October 26. 2019 5:53PM
By Mary Biekert Day staff writer
East Lyme — Public Safety Building Vision Committee members on Thursday reviewed newly revised concept plans for the town’s proposed policing facility after objections were raised to a higher-than-expected $5.8 million renovation estimate presented to the committee late last month.
Compared to the original plan, which took up 22,537 square feet spread across two floors in the building, the new plan features renovations on just the first floor of the building, taking up 16,938 square feet, which committee members are hoping will bring the price down to within the town’s $1.7 million budget for the project.
Vision Committee Chairman Paul Dagle, who is also a selectman, said that contracted building architects Silver/Petrucelli + Associates have not yet provided new cost estimates, but committee members would receive them by Monday to discuss at another meeting planned for Tuesday night.
A previous cost breakdown presented by architects showed that renovations would cost about $248 per square foot. Dagle said he was not sure yet whether the price per square foot would decrease, but that, “We’re expecting the price to come down closer to the budget.”
“I just know that, with the decrease in the total square footage and some effect of not having to worry about means of egress because we aren’t on the second floor at all, the price is coming down,” Dagle said.
Committee members added that the latest plans could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by not replacing an HVAC system and skipping over repaving the parking lot. A downgraded generator also will save at least $100,000, member Bill Cornelius said.
Dagle said more savings may be found when the town has a better understanding of which Americans with Disabilities Act and other building requirements must be followed.
Building official Steve Way had previously told The Day the town may be able to save money by structurally upgrading only certain parts of the building, such as its Emergency Operations Center.
Way also had told The Day that the building may not need to be fully retrofitted with sprinklers, depending on which modifications can be obtained from the state. Should holding cells be built, that part of the building would need to be retrofitted with sprinklers, he said.
The town still needs to obtain modifications to bypass certain building requirements from the state's building official.
Voters in a February referendum approved spending up to $5 million to purchase and renovate the former 30,000-square-foot Honeywell office building at 277 West Main St. into a consolidated space that would house a new police facility, as well as the town’s dispatch center, fire marshal’s office and emergency operations center.
Having closed on the building in May for about $2.77 million, the town is now left with approximately $1.7 million for repurposing the structure as a public safety facility, while the remaining $500,000 will be used to install communications wiring and dispatch equipment in the building.
But after Silver/Petrucelli + Associates said renovations could cost as much as $5.8 million at the Sept. 26 Public Safety Building Vision Committee meeting — $3.6 million more than provided by the approved bond issue — many residents, as well as some town officials, have since expressed worry that the project simply cannot come in on budget.
Principal architect William Silver of Silver/Petrucelli + Associates has since appeared before the Board of Selectmen to offer an explanation for the higher-than-expected renovation estimates. Silver said earlier this month that a “needs assessment” for the building, as well as the first “conceptual design,” presented to the Vision Committee on Sept. 26, was just the first phase of a multiple-step process between architects and the committee — a "planning tool," he said, to begin the process and to “show the big picture” of the project, “to give you a sense of what the total responsibilities in the long run are going to be involved.”
According to comments submitted to the vision committee by police Chief Mike Finkelstein, who was not present at Thursday’s meeting, the new plan is "workable."
“He understands and we all understand that we are trying to minimize the amount of work in this building and maximize it as an office building,” Dagle said.
Most committee members at Thursday's meeting also expressed content with the newly outlined plans and said it made sense to keep the plans to just the first floor, saving the second floor for expansion of other town departments in the future.
Member Lisa Picarazzi, who is also vice chairwoman of the finance board, raised concerns with the building’s roof, asking that the committee receive an accurate lifespan for it. According to initial price estimates, a new roof would cost more than $370,000. Picarazzi also said she wanted to ensure that the size of the Information Technology room provides adequate space for its systems, saying that Stonington police had told her, while she was touring their building, that their IT room is too small and to learn from their mistake.
Dagle said he would add her concerns to the list of questions to ask architects.
Holding cells also were designed into the scheme presented Thursday. Dagle said that was to help price out how much the cells would cost, which will be further determined when the committee goes out to bid on contracted renovations for the building. Once the committee has the final price of the holding cells, Dagle said it will then make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen on whether the cells should be built as part of the building now or to wait until later.
The Board of Finance voted during a Jan. 23 special meeting to decrease the amount the town is allowed to bond out for the project, unanimously approving $5 million — $2.77 million to purchase the building and $2.23 million for renovations. That was below the initial nearly $6 million request based on estimates First Selectman Mark Nickerson and the task force obtained from experts.
Cutting $1 million from the original request, the board acknowledged, would mean potentially putting off installing proposed holding cells. In Silver/Petrucelli + Associates’ original presentation, holding cells were estimated to cost just over $1 million.
Dagle said that should the holding cells be built, the committee also would need to account for how much it would cost to hook up the building to the town’s water system, which would be needed for the sprinkler system required in the holding cell area.
Dagle said the town is planning to connect the police building property to a water line that soon will be brought down through a proposed affordable-housing development — known as Rocky Neck Village — currently being planned just north of the police building.
Dagle said those costs are not currently part of the $5 million budget.
Reviewing the vision committee’s charter, Dagle said, “Our goal is to get those four organizations in this building and make sure it's functional so that they can go do their job and be in a much better environment than the one they’re in today.”
“And if for some reason, we think we are taking a shortcut here, cramming all this here into the square footage, or cramming it in to meet the cost, it’s our responsibility to identify that,” Dagle said. “We are going to have to continue to evaluate this. A lot of things will evolve. This is our second or third step to get a concept to meet our needs and budget.”
Don’t be misled, police project will built on budget
Published October 22. 2019 5:19PM
By Mark Nickerson
For East Lyme residents, it’s time to take pause and review the Public Safety Building issue.
For too long our town has politicized the building of a Public Safety facility. Two failed projects over the past two decades have resulted in our first responders working in sub-par conditions. With the police still in a temporary facility that was never designed, never renovated, and never meant to be used as a public safety facility, I had an opportunity to solve this lingering problem. It was time to stop kicking the can down the road. Town residents and commission members who toured the current facility all agreed it was time.
As first selectman, I work daily to ensure the welfare of our citizens. That includes our dedicated police officers who work around the clock for our safety.
Having just gone through the largest building project in town history with the renovation of three elementary schools, our choices were limited. When presented with the chance to give police a modernized facility at a fraction of the cost of past failed initiatives, I knew it was my duty to bring this opportunity forward. The plan to buy the 28,000 square-foot Honeywell building and renovate to a public safety facility was supported unanimously by every board and commission that weighed in. Townspeople voted overwhelmingly in its favor at referendum.
After an exhaustive process interviewing numerous architectural firms, the appointed Public Safety Building Vision Committee selected Silver/Petrocelli, experienced in designing police facilities. Three weeks ago, Silver/Petrocelli presented its “renovate as new” plan as a starting point in the process. The firm explained that this is typical of such projects to have a well-informed plan review for short-range and long-range planning.
The architect’s preliminary report included the replacement or addition of scores of items that would never be considered for this project. It was never intended for public consumption, having no basis in how the current project will be considered by the committee. Unfortunately, the preliminary nature of that report was overlooked or misunderstood by many and by the press covering our community. This has created unwarranted concerns.
To clear up misunderstandings, architect William Silver spoke at last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting. He apologized for the confusion and reiterated that this preliminary plan was just that. He said that the final product would conform to the project outlined by the vision committee, will be suited in every way for its purpose, and come in on time and on budget.
Silver added, “Part of our responsibility is to show the larger scale and broader scope of the (building) and then work with the committee to establish priorities to meet the program needs and more importantly meet budget. And we are still going to do that.”
He further explained, “It is a function of the plan that the police and the police commission and the planning committee have developed, and we are confident that we will make it work within the building and within your budget. We just need the time to work through the process. Responsible planning needs and deserves time working together to establish that list of priorities and especially for our architects to respond to the committee’s needs to meet a budget. We are aware of the $1.7 (million available) and we are confident that we will meet that budget.”
Those specific and direct comments should go a long way in building back the trust of those concerned. When we took politics out of the process, the town approved a new facility at a fraction of the cost of a new building. Promises were made to our citizens by the Task Force and the Vision Committee and I have confidence that those promises will be kept.