Riverhead Town’s municipal spaces are outdated and cramped, and nowhere is that more apparent than in their justice court and police building behind town hall on Howell Avenue.
Riverhead has in its possession two buildings that could help alleviate some of those problems: the former Second Street Firehouse building and the former New York State National Guard Armory building on Route 58, but town board members just can’t seem to agree on how those buildings should be used.
On Thursday, the board heard a presentation on a $13 million project to revamp the 36,000-square-foot Armory building from Ehasz Giacalone Architects and engineering firm Cashin Associates.
The armory building was given to the town in 2011 by New York State with a covenant in the deed stating it would only be used for police and court functions. If the town were to use it for other purposes, according to the deed, the property would revert back to state ownership.
The architects and engineers have been studying the flow of visitors to the current court and police complex, and their representatives pointed out that prisoners enter and exit the building right next door to the handicapped entrance, and immediately are in a situation where they mingle with the public on entrance to the building.
They also pointed out that the main entrance is cramped and justice court attendees and their attorneys have to conference in the hall outside the courtroom, which is far too small to handle the amount of traffic it receives each week.
The current complex is just 12,100 square feet, and the consultants said they would need at least 29,700 feet to satisfy all the programmatic needs of both a court and a police station, which would include division of access to different parts of the building and a secure sally port, which is essentially a garage entrance for bringing prisoners into a police station or court. They said the armory building was well-suited for this type of re-use.
Town Justices Allen Smith and Richard Ehlers said the project must be done soon to protect the safety of justice court visitors, who currently mingle with prisoners en route to the courtroom. Town Supervisor Sean Walter agreed.
While Mr. Walter said the $13 million price tag “scares the heck out of me,” he said “what scares me more is attending a funeral or a hospital because someone got hurt in justice court…. This has to be done.”
Mr. Walter said the town is retiring $800,000 worth of annual debt service in 2017, and, since any work done at the armory wouldn’t be finished until 2018, the town could work out a way to pay off the bulk of the bond after 2018. He estimated that if bonds were floated at a 4 percent interest rate, the project would cost roughly $752,000 per year over 30 years, and added that it should be done as soon as possible while interest rates are still relatively low.
Mr. Walter added that the town may be able to combine highway yards with the state and combine police dispatch services with the rest of the East End as part of Governor Cuomo’s plan to combine more municipal services, and the town would likely save some money by moving the people currently working at a building on Pulaski Street known as Town Hall West back to the main town hall complex.
He estimated the town could make as much as $2.7 million from the sale of the Town Hall West property.
“We can do this folks,” he said. “It’s not going to jack taxes up.”
Councilman Jim Wooten agreed.
“This is something we really have to address,” he said.
But Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who said the project was too expensive, asked the consultants to go back and look into moving town hall into the Second Street firehouse, moving the justice court and police headquarters to the current town hall building and moving the offices currently located at Town Hall West into the court and police building.
Councilmen John Dunleavy and George Gabrielsen said they’d also like to see cost projections for Ms. Giglio’s options. The town board would need four votes in order to approve the armory project. “We need to satisfy you to where you have four votes,” said Justice Ehlers. “You can put me on the moon. I don’t care. But you can’t keep me where I am.” The board will now await the results of Ms. Giglio’s request for information on the costs of reusing the Second Street firehouse.