Police, fire Fire, police stations under review in Ridgefield

May 10, 2019 GMT

RIDGEFIELD — A new police station? A new fire station? Both in one?

Maybe just renovate the two existing buildings — a converted Victorian mansion that serves as a police station, and a firehouse that dates to the era of horse-drawn fire wagons?

The town needs to figure out what it wants to do. And town officials are seeking the help of a consultant to study the multiplicity of issues that need to be factored in — department needs, changing missions, population growth, town geography.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi described the situation with both police and fire headquarters when talking to the Board of Finance about the needs during a recent budget workshop.

“Just take a look at what that building is like,” Marconi said of the police station.

“Every time a project was done, they didn’t take out the old wires, they added new wires.”

And the Catoonah Street firehouse is more than a century old.

“The firehouse was built in 1896, after the great fire,” Marconi said.

The selectmen have set aside $40,000 to $60,000 for a study that will try to answer some of the overview questions.

“Do we stay there? Do we do two buildings? Do we do one? All that,” Marconi told the finance board.

Marconi wants the Police Commission and the Board of Selectmen — which functions as the town’s Fire Commission — and to get together and review a “request for proposals” or “RFP” that will go out for the study.

“And that hopefully, will be an RFP by invitation to three companies that have extensive experience in assessing the needs to those respective departments today and well into the future,” Marconi said.

He described what town officials are looking for.

“Really, what we want to do is take a snapshot of where are are today: Square footage. How many people? Can the buildings that we are in today be upgraded to accommodate not only today’s needs, but into the future?” he said. “And if they cannot, what should we look at — and that’s any scenario you can possibly look at.

“Price won’t necessarily dictate what we can do,” he added. “Because if we cannot accommodate, say, a firehouse at the current Catoonah Street location, then we’re going to have to figure something out. Do we keep that station? Build another smaller one? Sell that station? All these possibilities will be studied and the same will be applied to the Police Department.

There will likely be a couple of phases to the effort.

“Right now, phase one is to collect all of the information on the current state of our buildings” before moving on to a cost-analysis, Marconi said.

People who have doubts about the need for upgrading the police and fire facilities are welcome to tour the buildings.

“Anyone who wants a tour can call,” Marconi said. “They’re certainly safe and can accommodate current operations, but are in need of an upgrade.”

When Marconi discussed the plan with Board of Finance, board member Amy Freidenrich asked if selling the current police station might help offset the cost.

Marconi was skeptical.

“We’re talking $25-to-$28 million. What are you going to get for that property?” Marconi said.

There’s another factor weighing against sale of the police station property.

“We have the tower there,” Marconi said.

The radio tower not only serves police communications but hosts equipment from numerous cell phone companies.

“That’s $125,000 year in revenue,” Marconi said.

Combining forces?

Finance board member Sean Connelly wondered if any consideration was being given to “not just a combined building, but a combined force.”

There has been talk of combining functions, such as dispatching, although that has met with some resistance, Marconi said, as has state interest in regionalizing 911 call answering.

There’s also skepticism about regionalizing departments.

“With regionalization, you look at Georgetown. Four come together in Georgetown — Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton and Weston,” Marconi said.

“We’ve discussed it. We know it would be a tough sell,” he added. “The chiefs association would be opposed.”

There’s also been public concern about other regionalization efforts — most intense, but not solely, concerning schools.

“We will fight county government tooth and nail,” Marconi told the finance board.

“It’s another layer of government,” added Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.

For the study that will soon begin, up to $62,000 was approved in 2017.

Three firms likely to be asked for proposals on phase one — the needs assessment study. They are: Jacunski Humes Architects, Kaestle Boos Associates, and Drummey Rosane Anderson Inc.

“All three have extensive experience in completing space needs assessments,” Marconi said.