BERLIN - The design-and-build plans for renovating the jail cell doors at the police station were approved at a joint meeting of the Town Council and Board of Finance last week.
The meeting was held after the Board of Finance took no action at the end of February on transferring $30,000 from a finished project to fund the jail cell plans, despite the council approving the project at the end of February.
The $310,000 left over from a finished project to build portable classrooms at the schools is available for the transfer.
Finance board members said with uncertainties on the future of the police station they didn’t want to fund the project, when the took no action in February. The cells being moved if the police station is renovated or a new one is built, were those uncertainties.
The uncertainties stemmed from a statement of need that was sent by the Police Commission earlier this year to the Public Building Commission to conduct a study on expanding the police station into the neighboring Board of Education offices in the basement of Town Hall. Attempts to build a new police station that have failed at referendum in previous years added to those uncertainties.
Berlin Police Chief John Klett squashed those uncertainties saying the doors could bed moved if need be. Both finance board and council members acknowledged they were more comfortable moving forward with the project knowing that.
Kaczynski also raised the point of funding for a new police station, which was previously estimated at $20 million and $16 million, may be tough to do given the fiscal climate.
“I don’t think the town would vote for it anyway,” said finance board member Mark Holmes.
The new plans will allow the town to package the renovation of their four barred jail cell doors with the Trumbull and Orange police departments, who are looking to renovate eight and seven cell doors respectively.
Based on estimates for those departments, the project is estimated to cost between $150,000 and $180,000. Another $50,000 could be used to upgrade the locker rooms with lockers and HVAC systems as part of the same project, Kaczynski said.
The cell doors would be replaced with Plexiglas, which would prevent prisoners from attempting to kill themselves by tying something around their neck and the bars, like one did in September 2016.
Since then, Deputy Chief Chris Ciuci said at an early February town council meeting, when the project was first approved by the council but needed funding approval from the finance board, the police department had spent over $45,000 in overtime costs to have an officer watch the cells in the afternoon or overnight so detainees don’t harm themselves. An officer within the building when the suicide attempt occurred was able to intervene and save the detainee before he died.
“We can’t really ignore it once we’ve actually had a serious attempt like that,” said Klett last week, adding it’s a liability for the town if a detainee harms themselves. He added there are no state statutes regulating any sort of compliance to dictate how the cell doors should be built, in response to board member Kevin Guite’s questions on such.
Because there are only two companies in the country that manufacture and install the doors, in Baltimore and Ohio, Acting Town Manager Jack Healy said last week, packaging the projects together makes it more appealing for the preferred Ohio vendor to come to Connecticut.
“I’d rather have our officers patrolling around the schools, opposed to watching the cell,” said finance board member Sal Bordonaro, the one member originally for the project when his colleagues took no action.
School officials have said they are willing to cooperate with the expansion study if it suggests their relocation, and if adequate office space for them can be found elsewhere. Healy last week said the Public Building Commission has sent out the Request for Qualifications for the study, and will next be going through the process of selecting a proposal once they are received.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org