Norwich - City leaders who promoted the proposed $33.4 million new downtown police station said Wednesday they heard and understand the message from city voters - a loud rejection of the project - but added that the need for a new police station will not go away.
Mayor Peter Nystrom and Police Chief Louis Fusaro said discussions will have to begin soon on what the city can do next to ease inadequacies of the current station at 70 Thames St. They said they have few options short of trying again to craft a new police station plan acceptable to voters.
"We're certainly going to have to do a re-evaluation," Nystrom said. "People rejected the cost estimate of the project. We have to build that into any discussions, and it has to be a central part of the discussion."
Voters rejected the police station plan 7,254 to 4,178. The plan would have used the former Sears Building at 2-6 Cliff St. and incorporated several vacant surrounding lots. A city-owned parking lot would have been converted into a three-story parking garage, the first floor for public parking.
The land to the rear would have housed a covered prisoner drop-off area, indoor shooting range and another covered area for vehicle parking and maintenance.
The Sears site was the top choice of several properties considered for a police station over the past several years.
Nystrom said the site remains the best choice. He plans to talk to the Lord Family Nominee Trust to discuss the future availability of the building. State offices currently occupy the building.
The city can't present the same project to voters for at least a year. Nystrom said clearly the $33.4 million price tag would have to be cut to make any such project more appealing to voters.
Nystrom said Sears Building renovations were estimated at $17 million and saved $2 million to $3 million as opposed to new construction. He said perhaps other project features could be scaled down, such as the
$5 million parking garage, the 29 holding cells or the vehicle maintenance area.
"I really think we can't ignore the needs of the police station, because that's what they need to serve our community," Nystrom said.
Fusaro was reluctant to downsize the project. The plans were designed to last 50 years. The past two city police stations were scaled down to fit budgets and were too small as soon as they opened.
"I'm open for any possibilities. The need is there. I think most people understand that. It's just the price they objected to," Fusaro said.
The cramped conditions of the station must be addressed immediately, Fusaro said. With approval by the City Council, the police department is rebuilding its community policing program, with patrols dedicated to downtown, Taftville and Greeneville. The department is hiring another 10 to 12 officers to reach the authorized staffing level of 99 uniformed officers.
"We've got to do something with lockers," Fusaro said. "We talked about that (Wednesday) morning. We have to do something to produce the number of lockers we have. The problem is it won't be in the locker room, but that's where the showers are. They're not good solutions, but temporary patchwork."