East Lyme – Supply chain issues affecting the proposed roof replacement of the public security building are the latest roadblock in a renovation project that continues to be a political lightning rod in the city.
The city planning committee, the general contractor, the architect and the city administration were aiming for a completion date for the long-awaited and controversial project in late summer. Plans were ruined by a series of roof leaks in the communication room.
Now, the voter-approved, federally funded, $ 200,000 roof replacement is unlikely to happen until March because raw materials are currently unavailable due to the pandemic, said Ray O’Connor, chairman of the urban development committee. Meanwhile, committee members last week approved the allocation of $ 11,679 to a drain pan and gutter system that O’Connor called a “temporary barrier” to allow employees to move in by November or early December.
The city’s 24-person police force is currently housed in a small building on Main Street with longstanding structural and water damage made worse by recent storms.
The funding for the roof replacement was added to the $ 7.2 million already approved for the project, consisting of an initial $ 5 million approval in early 2019 and an additional $ 2.2 million last fall for the building on West Main Street, which will serve as the hub for the city’s police force, operations center, control room, fire department and emergency call center.
“It was about waiting until March to move the IT equipment under a new roof or put the equipment under the old one and put in a temporary barrier like a false roof to contain potential leaks and keep the equipment off,” said O’Connor.
The idea was suggested by the committee and project architects at Silver / Petrucelli + Associates, according to O’Connor. He said the project is not guaranteed by Centerbrook’s contractor Noble Construction & Management, which means equipment can be damaged if the roof fails in that area.
The communications room will house new, moisture-sensitive communications equipment valued at approximately $ 200,000, O’Connor said. He said there are currently no leaks in the room but “there is potential”.
He said there seemed to be a new leak every time it rains, although not necessarily in the IT room.
East Lyme Police Chief Mike Finkelstein was absent from last week’s Building Committee meeting due to family responsibilities, but said he would move forward this week if he was reassured that the temporary fix will provide the necessary protection to keep equipment safe and dry.
Finkelstein has put on record that he would not enjoy installing electronics without a roof replacement. He also insisted that officers move out of their current building, which he described as inefficient, inadequate and unsafe.
Finkelstein said he relied heavily on the recommendations of the building committee, architects and general contractor for their recommendations on temporary repairs, as his business is policing, “not water conservation and construction.”
He warned several vendors, including the state and AT&T, also have a role in determining whether their equipment is safe in the new space.
“In my opinion it would be a terrible option to say wait for the roof,” said Finkelstein. Like O’Connor, he blamed global supply chain issues that leaked locally.
“In the meantime, I think we need to get out of the situation we are in,” he said. “We have to go forward and get into the building.”
Problem triggers political wrangling
According to First Selectman Mark Nickerson, the building authority is expected to issue an occupancy certificate within 30 days, although it will take time to prepare the building for residents.
“We are confident that we can move into the building and we will get a new roof on this building in the spring months,” he said.
The Chief Financial Officer, Camille Alberti, who is also a first candidate for election, has been critical of the project for several years. After attending the building committee meeting through Zoom last week, she told The Day that her concerns about roof replacement at the city assembly are coming to fruition.
“I said, ‘Look, the last thing I want is for the police to move from one mold-infested building to another,'” she said of the city council. “I think that didn’t go down well.”
The voting of around 70 people at the city assembly was so decisive that no manual vote was necessary.
Alberti lost to Nickerson two years ago in the race for the First Selectman and this time against Republican deputy First Selectman Kevin Seery.
Earlier this summer, the Democratic Vice-Chairwoman of the Alberti and Finance Committee, Ann Cicchiello, who is running for Selectman alongside Alberti, voted against the motion to send the roof replacement to the city assembly at all.
Alberti questioned whether it made sense to move expensive equipment and personnel into the building before repairing the roof.
Committee members approved the leak protection system for the IT room last week, as well as $ 9,727 for sealing the inner east wall to fix what project architect Steve June called “a good amount of mold” in the logs. Members also approved $ 3,095 to activate the HVAC system to alleviate abnormally humid conditions and “keep mold at bay,” the minutes said. The committee allocated $ 1,285 to a video inspection of a foundation drain that was found to have broken a pipe that was subsequently repaired by the public works department.
Members also raised drainage issues around the foundation but did not provide funding to address the problem.
Alberti claimed the committee was rushing to finalize the project before the November elections.
“Come on hell or high water, no pun intended you want (Nickerson) to cut the ribbon before he leaves,” she said, referring to comments she had heard at the meeting last week.
Despite multiple attempts, The Day was unable to access a recording of the Zoom meeting.
Nickerson scoffed on Thursday at Alberti’s criticism of the panel’s decisions in consultation with project engineers, contractors and department heads.
“A housewife, someone who isn’t in construction, tells builders they’re getting it wrong,” he said. “These people do this for a living. They know what they’re doing.”
He found that activating the HVAC system would fix the mold problem. He reiterated that the leaks in the IT room have stopped and that the leaks in other areas are “minimal”.
He described the temporary solution as “a type of internal secondary roof” used in other government and commercial buildings.
“We’re going to do this right and we’re going to do this as soon as possible, but we’re not going to cut corners,” he said. “This project was never about me. It was about getting our public security guards and our department into the right buildings. And we will.”
Alberti, in response to The Day on the Housewives Comment, said statements like this help “uncover the true uncivilized discourse that our city dwellers have endured for many years”.
“A contract license is not required to understand the nonsensical approach to renovating the interior of a building before replacing a leaky roof and before mitigating drainage problems from rising water levels,” she said.
She described the temporary roof repair as another example of “total mismanagement by the current administration”.
Seery, the Republican first-line candidate, said he will assist the move in before the roof is replaced if “there is a high level of security” that the temporary measures will ensure the safety of the equipment. He said he would go to the general contractor, architect and building inspector for this assurance.
“We’re about to finish here,” said Seery. “I wouldn’t want to move into the building if anyone was concerned that this temporary fix might fail because it would have many adverse effects.”