EAST LYME — Town officials and hired architects tasked with laying out a vision for renovating the former Honeywell office building into a new town police station met Tuesday night to discuss revised design concepts for the building that would confine significant work to just one floor of the two-story structure.
The Public Safety Building Vision Committee is now looking for further cost savings or cuts before approving the architects to begin work on a detailed design plan. The committee is trying to limit costs to within, or nearly within, the $1.7 million remaining for construction from a February referendum.
Voters originally approved $5 million, out of which about $2.8 million was spent to buy the Honeywell building, and roughly $500,000 was designated for other town expenses in the project, including communications equipment.
“We are within range,” architect William Silver of Silver / Petrucelli + Associates told members of the town’s Public Safety Building Vision Committee. “We need your help in going through the line items and helping decide priorities.”
While emphasizing that these numbers remain “rough,” Silver and his associate Brian Cleveland of Buchanan Architects shared probable cost estimates of $2.2 million for a basic plan.
Selectman Paul Dagle, who chairs the committee, said committee members can now use these estimates to determine where they could cut to get down to budget. He also left open the possibility of going to the Board of Selectmen to request more money if something critical cannot be covered by what is appropriated.
“We can go look at these items to see how we get down to the 1.7 [million] and we don’t need to give up everything,” Dagle said. “I have no problem if this committee goes back to the Board of Selectmen saying we need 1.8 [million]. That’s not what we want to do, but on the other hand I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater either.”
The one-floor plan showed significant cost savings from earlier estimates, in part because it means that less than half of the building will be renovated, and the town will not be required to bring the entire 30-year-old structure up to code.
The $2.2 million base bid includes some contingency costs that Silver said could be potentially be reduced. The architect’s contingency, for example, was 5 percent of total project costs, or about $87,500.
“That number could zero out if we find that there are no hidden conditions,” Silver said, “If all the duct work is perfect, if the plumbing is as we hope it would go, and there are no surprises, then that schematic design contingency disappears, but we’re putting the five percent in right now as a placeholder.”
Among other potential places for cuts, Dagle suggested at an earlier meeting that a smaller generator could be installed to save about $100,000. Cleveland said that he’d want to see more information about the building’s energy needs before saying if that was a feasible move.
Silver additionally suggested that committee members meet with the town’s public works department and look for work that could be accomplished in-house.
“Whether it takes one more meeting or three more meetings with or without the designer,” Dagle said, “our next course of action is to endorse the funds so that they can start the design.”
Added costs, added options
In addition to the base costs, the architects gave the committee supplemental, preliminary cost estimates for three big-ticket options that the committee may decide not to include:
The most expensive of these three supplemental options covered the costs of detention cells and a sally port for the complex, estimated at $678,000.
Rougher, earlier estimates had put the cost of this installation at about $1 million, and committee members said earlier in the discussion that it was unlikely to be covered by the original appropriation.
But some members of the committee and the Board of Selectmen have indicated that they might request more money from the Board of Finance to cover the cost of detention cells if those bids appear reasonable.
An additional option for structural reinforcement that is usually required for police stations was estimated to cost about $268,000.
Silver and Dagle have both said at committee meetings that the town could seek permission from the state building official to forgo this installation. It’s “extremely rare” to request this modification for exemption, Silver said, but he continued that the town’s local building official has already said he would support it.
A third option, for an elevator cab that was estimated to cost about $119,000, was deemed less important by the committee if police services were confined to one floor.
“Since the upper floor is not going to be occupied there is no primary function area on the second floor, so therefore it does not need to be accessible” explained architect Brian Cleveland, referring to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The $2.2 million base bid included the costs of structural installations that would allow for installing an elevator at a later date.
“That would leave alive the option to put in the elevator at a future date if we do recommend it and if the Board of Selectmen so choose,” Dagle said.
Renovations take center stage at candidates’ debate
Planning and financing for the public safety building was central to the First Selectman Debate on Tuesday night.
The 7 p.m. debate at East Lyme High School was scheduled to begin just 90 minutes after the Public Safety Vision Committee met in Town Hall to discuss the most recent plans and figures.
At the debate, Camille Alberti, the Democratic challenger in the race, said that incumbent First Selectman Mark Nickerson, a Republican, mishandled the planned renovations and had not properly researched the costs. Nickerson responded that the project would be completed on budget.
“Here’s the bottom line, folks,” Alberti said at the debate. “This project will come in on budget for $2.2 million. However, that does not include phase two, phase three, and hundreds of thousands of dollars… perhaps millions more in the coming months.”
Nickerson responded that the plan had always been for the initial appropriation to fund the transfer of police services to the building, that phase two would include a sally port and detention cells, and that a possible phrase three would include transferring additional town services — such as a library — to the public safety complex.
“We’re going to do this project right. It will be done on budget,” he said. “We were authorized a certain amount of money. It will be on budget. And we will do it right. I am very confident in that.”