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Weston police and dispatch facilities study moves forward

The Weston Police Station is being reviewed for space needs.

The Weston Police Station is being reviewed for space needs.

The Board of Selectmen breathed a slight sigh of relief this past Monday when they learned the Police Department will likely need about 70% more space than it currently has instead of a preliminary estimate it received in May of about 300% more.

Brian Humes of Jacunski Humes Architects was hired by the town earlier this year to evaluate the space needs of the police department and the Communications Center.

When Mr. Humes returned to the Police Commission with his preliminary findings, he said the police and communications departments currently occupy 5,805 square feet of space, and need about 15,782 square feet

However, upon review of the assessment by the Police Commission, the town administrator, and others, it was discovered there were areas in use by the police of which Mr. Humes had not been aware, including a forensics lab at the Town Hall Annex and a gym. And, there were some “new” things the town determined were not necessary.

After more information gathering, Mr. Humes presented to the Board of Selectmen a second draft space needs assessment report on Monday, July 8. In it, he revised the existing square footage to reflect the adjustments, saying the departments currently use 8,380 total gross square footage and will need 14,300 gross square feet, a difference of 5,920 square feet.

“I’m confident this is accurate,” Mr. Humes said.

“So it’s important to note we’re not looking at a tripling as we originally thought. We’re talking about less than a doubling” of space, said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.

Ms. Weinstein said she is pleased with the space needs assessment to date. “It really has been an incredibly good and useful process. We [now have] a document that really addresses our actual needs,” she said.

Mr. Humes explained that not only does his report take into consideration the current department size, but he also looked at the town’s current and projected population, crime statistics, staff, and vehicles. He used that data to determine space recommendations for a facility that will serve the town for the next 50 or so years.

Mr. Humes said he took into account an expected “pretty constant” population, a slight growth in police and communications personnel and vehicles (three to four), and an increase in call volume due to the prevalence of cell phones and campaigns like “If you see something, say something” that are increasing emergency call volume everywhere.

Mr. Humes’ report notes that the current police station completely lacks space for some necessary functions. These include:

• Interview rooms with public access (80 square feet needed)

• Training or meeting room space (630 SF needed)

• Found property storage (250 SF needed)

• Firearms room (80 SF needed)

• Department equipment storage bay (600 SF needed)

• Emergency management storage (100 SF needed)

• Toilets and custodial services (80 SF needed)

There are some other areas which will need a significant increase in space, too. These include:

• Patrol functions (631 SF expansion needed)

• Administration (507 SF expansion needed)

• Evidence and property storage (438 SF expansion needed)

• Prisoner processing (260 SF expansion needed)

• Detective bureau (211 SF expansion needed)

Other areas that need slightly smaller increases in space include public areas, the dispatch center, the forensics computer lab, IT and data equipment storage areas, the sally port, and the detention area.

The selectmen gave the OK for Mr. Humes  to move to the next phase of the project, which is to do a detailed site evaluation, followed by the creation of schematic designs and cost estimates.

Mr. Humes clarified that his contract with the town specifies he look only at the current site in this phase — in other words, he won’t be investigating the possibility of building an entirely new facility.

He said he anticipates coming back to the Police Commission and the Building Committee with a few options for what is possible to do on the site (keeping in mind at no time can the police department close down), having those panels decide which option they like best, and which they want Mr. Humes to do schematics for. Following those two steps, the town would then be able to get professional cost estimates.

Renovation vs. new

Allen Swerdlowe, a member of the town’s building committee said he is pleased with Mr. Humes’ work and he thinks he’s “exactly the right person for the job.”

However, he expressed concern about looking only at renovation of the current facility rather than comparing the cost of a new building. “Renovation is almost always the most difficult and, in my opinion, the most expensive option,” Mr. Swerdlowe said.

He said he would like there to be a “break” between the site analysis and the schematic design phases so that the town could measure the pros and cons of renovation vs. new construction.

Mr. Humes said he is prepared to do the work in stages, and it is not his intention to enter into anything without some approval and acceptance from the town first. He said, too, that he thinks he will be able to “come close in a general sense” of the overall costs of renovation vs. new construction.

Ms. Weinstein said the site analysis information will also need to go before the Global Facilities Committee, a group looking at all town-owned property to determine the best and most efficient use of space.

She said she doubts the finance board would approve building any new space in town. She is pleased the town hired Jacunski Humes. “We have to have someone take an unbiased look and take the politics out of this,” she said.

Mr. Humes said his number one focus in looking at police facilities is safety. “Safety comes first. There are concerns with safety with your existing facilities. We won’t leave you with any safety concerns,” he said.

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