Middletown, R.I., to Receive New Police Station

But first, the contract must go out to bid, and arsenic found on the property must be cleaned up.

MIDDLETOWN - The long-delayed construction of a new police station should start this spring, with the project first going out to bid by the end of this year, according to Police Chief Anthony M. Pesare.

The $8-million station, on an 8-acre Valley Road site across from the entrance to Middletown High School, should take about a year to 18 months to build, Pesare said.

The project has been delayed by the discovery of arsenic in soil in a couple of small areas on the site, Town Administrator Gerald S. Kempen said. The state Department of Environmental Management has mandated that the town develop a mitigation plan and clean up the hot spots, which are above the state's acceptable limit.

"We would have been able to break ground this year," Kempen said. "It's definitely frustrating because we were ready to go."

A dog park envisioned for the west side of the police-station site has been nixed because of the arsenic issue, Kempen said.

Final plans are being refined for the 21,700-square-foot, two-level building, Pesare said. The planning process has been time-consuming and complicated, he said, but the end result should be worth it.

"I'll feel much better when I see the first shovel hit the ground," Pesare said. "We're trying to be patient because we understand it takes time. I'm learning so much as I go along. Are we anxious? Yes. But we're trying to be as patient as possible."

Middletown voters last November approved the bond for the project, on land that was once a Christmas tree farm, donated to the town by the Kempenaar family. Kempen said he's worried that the delay might cause a spike in construction costs.

"Our big concern is that we might hit a period of inflation that could really drive the cost up in terms of construction," he said. "We already decided two years ago what the cost would be. If the costs inflate too much, obviously the bond estimate could turn. We do not want to go back to the taxpayers with another request. We would likely have to scale back what we really need."

The new station will replace the Police Department's aging, cramped headquarters on Berkeley Avenue. The oldest section of the 6,500-square-foot building dates to 1955.

Pesare said he's excited about a number of elements planned for the new station, including a community room that can double as a police command center during emergencies, as well as separate entrances for suspects, the public and police officers. Right now, just about everyone enters and exits through one main entrance into a tight corridor, creating safety and privacy concerns, Pesare said.

Plus, there will be a so-called "soft" interview room, with homey furniture, where victims might feel more comfortable making a complaint of a crime, Pesare said.

The Town Council last week gave Pesare the go-ahead to seek permission from the Zoning Board to place the entrance for the new station at the opposite end of the building from the exit.

"It appears quite evident to me that the most prudent thing is to have one entrance and one exit so not everyone is turning in and out of the complex on Valley Road in one entrance," Pesare told the council.

What's more, he said, without a separate exit, the police could be "literally trapped in our complex" if a major traffic accident on Valley Road blocks traffic. He said the police are considering applying for a caution light at the station exit.

Meanwhile, the arsenic issue has also delayed the Kempanaar Valley park project, planned for the 45-acre slope behind the new police station, on the west side of Bailey Brook. The town - which was unsuccessful in its attempt to convince state leaders to raise the acceptable arsenic limits in soil from 7 parts per million to 15 parts per million - is applying for a state grant to help remediate that parcel. Cleanup has been estimated at between $1 million to $5 million.