Town Board seeking justice court options other than Armory

(Credit: Tim Gannon)
An artist rendering of the proposed relocation of police and justice court headquarters to the former Armory on Route 58. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

While two Riverhead Town Board members support a plan to convert the former Armory on Route 58 into a police and justice court headquarters, three members are seeking alternative options.

During Thursday’s work session, board members Jodi Giglio, George Gabrielsen and John Dunleavy said they want to know how much it would cost to move Town Hall into the Second Street firehouse and move the justice court into where Town Hall is currently located on Howell Avenue.

Under this plan, the police station would remain in its current building and expand after the justice court is relocated.

Representatives from Cashin Associates and EGA Architects, the firms hired last fall to conduct the police and justice court relocation study for $87,500, agreed to provide the Town Board with those estimates in two weeks.

The town’s request comes two months after the consultants presented a nearly $11 million plan for converting the vacant Route 58 armory into a justice court and police station. Consultants said Thursday the estimate now carries a $13 million price tag, which includes a new radio tower, architect and engineer fees, legal fees, bonding costs, contingency funds and furnishing.

Cashin/EGA also said they’ll include estimates for the cost of moving Town Hall West offices on Pulaski Street into the police department building, should the police and courts move to the armory. Officials said that number was left out of the original estimate.

The armory proposal has only gained the support of Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten.

“This is a doable number,” Mr. Walter said about the proposed cost.

Mr. Wooten, a former police officer, said: “It’s something we really have to address now and not kick it down the road.”

Other members of the all-Republican Town Board have recoiled with sticker shock.

“The cost doesn’t work,” Ms. Giglio said.

Mr. Gabrielsen agreed and said the economy has done a nose dive in the past four years.

“We’re broke,” he said.

Judge Allen Smith said the taxpayers won’t begin paying for the bond for the armory until 2018, when other town debt is eliminated. He also said interest rates are currently low and the town should act now before rates rise.

Judge Richard Ehlers said a $13 million bond will require four votes from the Town Board, instead of the usually three. Because of this, he agreed that an estimate should be done of the alternate plan, since neither plan currently has four votes.

“We can’t wait another four years,” he said. “We understand that you have more problems than us, but you did four years ago ask the state to give this building for the purpose that we’re here for today, and you did ask these architects to see if it would work for the purpose we’re here for today, and the answer is yes.”

Mr. Ehlers added that he believes converting Town Hall into a court would be difficult.

“You’ve got to gut this building to make it work,” he said.

Consultants said issues at the current police and court facility include: lack of a sally port, where police can bring a suspect indoors before taking them out of the car; handicapped access is located at the back of the building and isn’t open throughout the day. Visitors sometimes have to wait on a long line for court due to space issues, they said.

Although the current police station and court is 12,190-square feet, the feasibility study found the “current need” is nearly double that size, totaling 29,730-square feet.

The existing armory building is 35,437-square feet and the study recommends adding handicapped accessibility and sally ports, as well as using the first floor for police and the second floor for the courts.

The armory was transferred to the town at no cost from New York State in 2011 for the purpose of using it for police and courts.

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