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Town Board mulls space shortages at police and justice court building

The Riverhead Town Board looked at three options for dealing with space shortages at the police and justice court building at Thursday’s Town Board work session, all based on plans previously submitted over the past 10 years or so.

The estimated cost of those proposals ranged from $6.3 million to $12 million, based in numbers presented at the meeting.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Councilwoman Catherine Kent said they think the town should have a needs assessment done first to determine how much space is needed, before deciding what plan to use.

“We need to just know the space requirements to begin,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “All we are looking to do is confirm the space requirements and that they will carry us over for the next 10 to 20 years.”

“This is really long overdue,” Ms. Kent said. “We are absolutely looking to move on this … it’s my top priority. But we have to get it right and we have to look long term.”

The options examined were:

  • Expansion of town hall, including a second story, which had an estimated cost of $6.3 million.
  • Expansion of the current police department and justice court building, also including a second floor addition, which carried an estimated $8.5 million price tag.

There was also a plan to create 62 new parking spaces on the town land north of the police department and 27 new parking spaces on town land west of town hall.

  • Renovation of the Route 58 armory building as a police and courts headquarters, which carried an estimated cost of $12 million, of which $3 million would be for lead and asbestos remediation, according to Deputy Town Engineer Ernesto Rosini.

The armory proposal would also require a traffic signal on Route 58, he said.

That building and the 5.7-acre property it sits on were given to the town by the state in Sept. 2011 for the purpose of building a police and court complex, but it is currently used only for storage, officials said.

Town Justices Allen Smith and Lori Hulse — and Justice Richard Ehlers before her — for years have tried to impress upon town board members that the police headquarters and justice court building is overcrowded and unsafe and have asked that changes be made.

Mr. Smith ran down a litany of problems with the current court, which shares a building with the police:

“We’re crowded. We’re moving prisoners in and amongst jurors. You couldn’t hire another staff member because they would have to sit in somebody’s lap,” he said.

He continued, “We have 88 officers attempting to operate a morning police force in the same square footage as a small house in the town of Riverhead.”

“The court volume has increased substantially,” Ms. Hulse said.

Mr. Smith said the Juvenile Aid Bureau “is dangerously mixing in juveniles with criminals,” and the court has no sally port, where prisoners could be brought in to court in a contained area.

“I think everybody is well aware that the justice court and the police department are in a building that’s cramped and in need of more space,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “This has been an ongoing discussion for many, many years.”

But while Ms. Jens-Smith and Ms. Kent feel the town should first outline its needs, Mr. Smith feels that’s been done already.

He thinks a 2014 proposal by consultants Cashin Associates and architects Ehasz Giacalone Architects did a needs assessment that projects out more than 20 years. He feels a new needs assessment is not needed.

The 2014 proposal called for moving the police and courts into the armory.

“We are all aware of how bad it is,” Councilman Jim Wooten, a former court officer with the town police department, said.

He thinks that numbers from the 2014 study are 20 percent higher now.

He said that if the town uses the armory, it would be able to move functions into the current police building and possibly sell some town buildings.

“This is the first year that we have a balanced budget,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said, indicating that the town’s landfill debt is declining. She also suggested the town consider having a private developer build the police/court complex and other town offices on the town parking lot on Railroad Avenue and rent it back to the town. She feels the armory should be used for a YMCA.

Ms. Giglio added that state Senator Ken LaValle has indicated that state money is available to offset the asbestos remediation costs.

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