NORWICH — Location, not cost, may have spurred voters 2799 to 2634 to reject $44.75 million in bonding to construct a new police station yesterday.
Mayor Peter Nystrom told CT Examiner by phone on Wednesday that, despite having campaigned for the station, he wasn’t surprised by the results. He said he hadn’t heard a lot of support for the station during his door-to-door campaign.
Although the referendum did not specify a site for the new police station, Nystrom said voters had latched onto the idea that the new station was planned for Mahan Drive. Even explaining that the proposed location hadn’t been finalized, he said, didn’t change minds.
“It was kind of like a catch-22. The preferred site was this Mahan Drive [site] — which, by the way, was never in the ordinance that was adopted for people to vote on … but people got hung up on that address and didn’t want to see a police station up there,” he said. “At the same time, though, when they learned that it wasn’t a done deal … then they didn’t want to vote for it because they didn’t know where it was going to go.”
On Wednesday in an email Patrick Daley, chief of police in Norwich, said his department was disappointed that the ballot measure didn’t pass and that they would consider further options.
“The need for a new station is real. [It] only grows greater with each passing day,” wrote Daley.
Most voters who spoke with CT Examiner yesterday said they understood the need for a new police station, but did not agree with the proposed site behind the Rose City Senior Center on Mahan Drive.
One woman at the polls told CT Examiner that she fully supported a new facility for the police, and that she thought highly of them, but that she was not in support of the chosen location.
Another voter said he felt the station needed to be downtown, in a more centralized area, and a third said she was concerned a police station on Mahan Drive would be a disturbance for nearby schools.
Lieutenant John Perry stood outside a polling place at the Rose City Senior Center on Tuesday morning explaining to voters why they should support the new center. He said his own father had worked in the building in 1979. He said the building was unable to support new technology that the department was putting in, that there was no room to interview victims or bring in members of the community.
Joe DeLucia, President Pro-Tempore of the Norwich City Council, said one of his concerns with the current police station was the lack of space for female officers.
“You have female police officers that are literally sharing lockers that are using office space to change in instead of having a changing room of their own. And let’s take that one step further. We’ve had female officers who have had children, and they need a place to be able to, you know, to pump milk or to deal with some of the issues around maternity,” he said.
Another concern, he said, was the size of the dispatch center, which he said was too small to handle the number of dispatchers who needed to work there. And the third was the space housing the department’s technology, like its computer systems and terminals.
“We’re using former coat closets as server rooms,” he said. “They’ve got fans blowing in there. They’ve got temporary air conditioning systems. That shortens the life of those of those technology assets, and at the end of the day, that’s going to cost us taxpayer dollars.”
Nystrom recalled another bond referendum of $33 million for a new police station that failed back in 2009. That police station would have been located downtown in the former Sears building, which Nystrom said would still be the best location for a new station, but was now owned by Reliance Health.
Moving forward, Nystrom said, he wants to bring together a committee to analyze why the bond measure failed. And he said that in the future, the city needed to more clearly communicate the details of their plan.
“Nobody questions the need. Even those people that voted no, they know it’s needed. But they didn’t like the way it was handled. They didn’t like the lack of communication,” he said. “I’m speaking in hindsight, but it was rushed. And I was very concerned about that from the beginning — that it was not out there long enough for people to feel comfortable with it.”
DeLucia said that while the city couldn’t bring the project up again for a vote for another year, according to the city charter, it did give city officials time to engage in a larger discussion with the public about possible locations for the building.
“I think we need to spend the next six or eight months … talking about the project, talking about a variety of different sites … and giving the public a chance to discuss with us their feelings on the pros and cons of, let’s say, three or four potential sites that could work for this project,” he said.
This story has been updated to include comments by the Norwich Chief of Police and Joe DeLucia