Rendering of the former state armory building by architects Ehasz Giacalone

A $13 million plan to renovate the former N.Y. state armory on Route 58 for use as a new town police and justice court facility was rebuffed by a majority of the Riverhead Town Board following its presentation yesterday by the architects and engineer hired by the board to assess the armory and develop a plan for its reuse.

The proposal drew support only from Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman James Wooten, with the three other board members saying they want to evaluate alternatives before making any commitment.

No one argued with the consultants’ conclusion that the existing building at 210 Howell Avenue, built in the late 1980s, is “grossly inadequate in terms of space, security and parking,” (see prior story and video) but council members John Dunleavy, George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio said they’d like an analysis done on whether the town could more cost efficiently put other municipal properties to use.

Giglio proposes moving the town’s general offices to the former firehouse on E. Second Street, which the town acquired from the Riverhead Fire District in a land swap several years ago. The councilwoman would like to see the justice court take possession of the building currently used as town hall and the police department take over the entire building it now shares with the court.

Board members asked the consultants to conduct an assessment of those three buildings to determine what it will take to repurpose them for the new uses.

Architects Ehasz Giacalone and engineers Cashin Associates are going to come back to the board with a cost estimate for the additional analysis. The town board contracted with Giacalone and Cashin last year to prepare the armory assessment and plan at a cost not to exceed $87,500.

A frustrated town justice Richard Ehlers implored the board to move forward with the plans presented yesterday, developed over the last six-plus months by the architects, engineers and a committee consisting of Ehlers, Judge Allen Smith, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, Capt. Richard Smith, Deputy Supervisor Jill Lewis and town engineer Ken Testa.

Ehlers reminded the board that the town hired H2M in 2003 to develop a plan for the police and court complex; that plan came with an $8.7 million price tag. It was not implemented.

2014 0502 armory discussion“That’s what’s so discouraging to us,” Ehlers said. “We have been at this for so long.”

“Judge, with all due respect, we need to look into it. We don’t have $13 million,” Giglio said. “We don’t have a dime. We have a $4 million deficit. How are we going to pay for this?”

The proposal calls for issuing municipal bonds to cover the costs of repurposing the 35,400-square-foot armory building. The new debt would go on the town’s books as other existing debt is retired — meaning it would not add to the town’s current debt or taxpayer burden, the supervisor said.

“We have never seen municipal bond rates like this,” Judge Smith reminded the board.

“Spending the money scares the heck out of me,” Walter said. “But you know what scares me even worse? Attending somebody’s funeral or visting them in the hosptial because they got hurt in Riverhead Justice Court.”

Walter said he does not believe renovating the old firehouse, town hall and the current court/police complex will be any less expensive.

If the alternative plan is more cost-effective, as Giglio hopes, the councilwoman said she would look use the former armory as a recreation facility, perhaps leasing it to the YMCA for $1 a year.

“It’s right next to Stotzky Park,” she said.

The state legislation authorizing the transfer of the armory to the town in 2011 specifies that the site must be used as a police and court complex; it also lists “recreation” as another use. Making different plans for the site might require new legislation.

“I would do that in a heartbeat,” State Sen. Ken LaValle said in a phone interview yesterday evening. “The original all along was to do a recreational facility,” LaValle said.

“I felt it was centrally located and easily accessible for people,” the senator said.

The Riverhead Town Board asked for the police/court complex use, he said.

“If we have to amend the law, it’s not a big thing,” LaValle said, adding that the town board would probably have to pass another home rule message asking the state for the change.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.