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Police department project

Published 1:09 am, Friday, July 23, 2010
  • Darien Police Department. Photo: Amanda Crisafi Contributed Photo, Contributed Photo / New Canaan News
    Darien Police Department. Photo: Amanda Crisafi Contributed Photo, Contributed Photo

 

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The police headquarters at 25 Hecker Ave. was originally built in October 1932 for a total construction cost of $30,500. About a dozen men worked for the department at that time, according to documents from the Darien Historical Society.

In the 78 years since, it has undergone several nips and tucks: a garage addition in 1950; a 1966 addition to the south side of the facility; a rifle-range addition in 1972; a $1.8 million dollar, 3,000-square-foot addition in 1987; and alterations to the pistol range in 1991 to name a few.

But the multi-million-dollar plan to renovate the facility, which was approved by the Board of Selectmen in 2007, was put on hold in November 2008, when the Board instituted a freeze on all capital projects with a price tag greater than $100,000. The RTM had approved $17.7 million in bonding for the project earlier that year.

Now the price point is back in the $14 million to $15 million range, due to record-low construction costs, according to Republican First Selectman David Campbell.

The project includes a 28,715-square-foot addition, as well as 13,234-square-feet of renovations and site improvements, according to the building permit on file in the Town's Building Department.

Space at the current department is a big need, according to Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello.

"The state recently began a project to connect all the 911 centers throughout the state with fiber-optic lines to increase technological capabilities and information flow; that necessitated the installation of a substantial cabinet," Lovello said Tuesday.

"It's about 7 feet tall and it's like the size of a large refrigerator. Most police stations would put that in their communications equipment room, but ours has long since past the time when it can accommodate new equipment," he said. "The only place would could put it was in the kitchenette next to the communications center."

And the department will be required to house more 911 equipment in the upcoming years, he said.

"It's not stuff we're choosing to install. We need to have it because we're a 911 center," he said. "I have no clue where I'm going to put this stuff. It's going to be just as big, and there is going to be more than one of them."

A space-need assessment, conducted by Jacunski Humes Architects in 2006 determined the police department the size of Darien would require 36,600 square feet of floor area. This renovation would expand the department to meet this need; it will more than double the size of the current 19,000-square-foot facility, and fix inadequacies with the department's two firearms training facilities.

Currently, there is an indoor range in the basement, which allows for basic training; but at 50 feet in length, it is not suitable for firearms certification. The outdoor range creates noise pollution and is not conducive to all weather conditions. The renovation will fix both these problems by nixing the outdoor range and expanding the basement facility to 75 feet.

It will also address inadequacies in the holding area.

"That cellblock, during the 1980s renovation, didn't see anything other than plumbing upgrades," Lovello said. "It still has the old-style heavy doors with bars from floor to ceiling. Those are hazards. It would be easy enough for someone to attempt to hang himself back there.

"Modern cell blocks don't have those things that you can tie something around," he said. "The other part is that the State has now changed the law so a 17-year-old is now considered a juvenile. We can no longer house them in a cellblock with an adult population."

The facility does not have separate areas for the two demographics, he said. If the department was to take on a juvenile detainee at the same time as an adult prisoner, Lovello said he would have to "see if another department would take the juvenile," which can be a huge liability.

But it's not just mandated changes that are driving the need for the project.

"We have got the best police force in my opinion, and I think in a lot of people's opinions," Darien Police Commission Chairman Paul Johnson said at Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting. "And these 51 dedicated officers, who are protecting your personal safety and the safety of your property are working out of a building that is -- at best -- fourth-rate."

The structure of the building is deteriorating, according to Lovello. Last week leaks from air-conditioning units saturated the sheetrock above the men's locker room, he said.

"It started to buckle, so we tore it down so it didn't collapse on someone. We found the steel holding up the sheetrock had substantially deteriorated due to rust," Lovello said.

"It was almost as though we tore a bandage off the wound and we realized we have a pretty sick building here," he said.

"We couldn't fit a bucket big enough to catch the water, so we put a big trunk organizer from one of our old patrol cars on the floor to catch the water," he said. "The locker room is still in use, and it will be. We have no other options. Officers change in there. They shower in there. The lockers provide security for weapons and their equipment -- we can't leave equipment unsecured in the building."

The money to patch up this most recent structural failure will most likely come from the $104,493 fund for station operation and maintenance. Last fiscal year, the department used up all its funding for "facility repair and maintenance" and was forced to transfer money into that portion of the budget on three separate occasions.