Ridgefield selects Schlumberger site for joint police, fire facility

RIDGEFIELD — After an extensive scouting process, town officials have selected a location to erect a brand-new public safety building, which will house Ridgefield’s police and fire departments.

The joint facility will be built at the former Schulmerberger property on Old Quarry Road where the Sky Dome Building currently resides. The site lies “substantially north” of A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut and BassamFellows, Inc., said Jacob Muller, director of purchasing, facilities and safety.

While the topic has been discussed for years, interest for the project renewed when former state representative John Frey joined the Board of Police Commissioners. Earlier this year he told Hearst Connecticut Media that he would speak with fellow commissioners about plans to create a joint station for the police and fire departments, which both exist “in cramped quarters,” he said.

Out with the old

The Ridgefield Fire Department has been headquartered at Catoonah Street for more than 100 years, but its proximity to Main Street limits any sort of physical expansion.

“We’re utterly landlocked,” Fire Chief Jerry Myers said.

Also limited is the space within the building itself — the apparatus bay has engines “stacked up one behind the other,” Myers described. In the middle of one hallway is a makeshift office that two people share, and a classroom doubles as the department’s conference room.

The Ridgefield Police Department is housed in an antiquated mansion that previously served as the governor’s residence and state police barracks. Police Chief Jeffery Kreitz said the layout is “not indicative of a modern-day police department,” and noted its lack of storage space and overall functionality.

Both chiefs said their departments would benefit from moving into a new facility that could adequately accommodate their first responders.

“We train together, work together, obviously go on calls together ... we’re closer than ever,” Kreitz said. “(So) when we started speaking about a combined facility … it just seemed to work.”

Due diligence

A working group comprising the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Police Commissioners retained Kaestle Boos Associates (KBA) to conduct a feasibility study at a cost of $65,000 to assess the state of the town’s police and fire buildings. The New Britain-based architecture firm specializes in the planning and design of police, fire and public safety facilities.

The study sought to answer if the existing buildings — on East Ridge Road and Catoonah Street, respectively — should be modified, or if a new, joint facility should be established. It ultimately landed on the latter.

Officials considered multiple sites that could support the project before settling on the Schlumberger property, which is owned by the town. The Sky Dome Building, which is currently being used for storage, will be demolished prior to construction of the new facility.

Muller said KBA will provide proposals to take the project “beyond a conceptual design” and will soon launch a public relations campaign to provide residents full transparency in relation to the project.

In with the new

The chiefs had “extensive discussions” with KBA to ensure the new facility would fulfill public safety and daily administration requirements, Muller said.

Myers envisions a dedicated training space that would enable the department to host training events and better prepare for day-to-day missions. Kreitz discussed a community room for the design, but is mostly looking forward to the “extra square footage,” he said.

The new building will also include a centralized dispatch facility for trained staff to field 911, routine and non-emergency calls, which is expected to increase communication efficiencies, Myers said. Multiple access points for both visiting and emergency vehicles are planned for the property.

The project does not have a set price tag, with crews years away from breaking ground. First Selectman Rudy Marconi explained that the town would not move forward on constructing the joint facility until 2023, when a debt service from prior school improvements “comes to an end,” he said.

Approved in this year’s capital budget was a $360,000 expenditure to begin architectural work at the site. As with normal budgetary proceedings, the project would have to be approved via public hearings, town meetings or a natural referendum, but Marconi expects it will be welcomed with support.

“The people of Ridgefield ... appreciate the level of service that both the P.D. and the F.D. deliver to our residents,” he said. “These men and women … deliver ... the best possible service they can, and they do, and now we need to get a building that’s reflective of that level of service.”

Myers agreed. “This is a physical reflection of the esteem that the community holds our responders in, and that is important for the morale of our department,” he said.