Riverhead officials at odds over cramped police/court quarters

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Riverhead Town's combined police station and justice court building is "grossly inadequate" in terms of size, security, accessibility and parking, according to architects and engineers hired by the town. But officials can't agree on what to do about it or how to pay for improvements.

The Howell Avenue building's layout makes it difficult for police to safely move inmates, and its size forces attorneys to consult with clients in a hallway, said representatives for Ehasz Giacalone Associates, a Farmingdale architectural firm, and Cashin Associates, a Hauppauge engineering firm.

The police and court building is at the center of competing plans to reshuffle town operations among various sites.

One proposal -- supported by Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman James Wooten -- hinges on converting a vacant National Guard armory on Route 58 into a new police station and justice court.

Walter, a Republican, said he wants to move a town hall annex on Pulaski Street into the existing police and court building to consolidate government services, such as the accounting and engineering departments, into one complex on Howell Street. But he faces opposition on the all-Republican board.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio favors transforming a vacant firehouse on Second Street into a new Town Hall.

Giglio said she wants to ask for state legislative approval to convert the armory into a recreation facility. In addition, she said she would like to allow the police to take over the existing police and court building and move the court to what is now Town Hall. Two other councilmen -- George Gabrielsen and John Dunleavy -- expressed skepticism at Walter's plan because of its expense.

Converting the armory into a police and court building would cost $13 million, architects and engineers said Thursday at a town board meeting.

"We're broke," Gabrielsen said.

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The town has struggled with budget issues over the years as it drew on reserves to keep taxes from rising. Walter said the town could downsize the armory project to about $10 million and that it could become more affordable as the town sells land and retires old debt.

The town sold the armory to the state in 1953. The contract contained a clause allowing for the 5.7-acre property to be returned to the town if it were no longer being used as an armory. The state did so in 2011.

Court and police officials said they want to move to the armory. "It's definitely needed," said Riverhead Police Chief David J. Hegermiller. "The time has come."

Walter said he and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst have discussed locating an East Endwide emergency dispatch facility at the armory -- a plan that could receive funding from state grants, Walter added.

The board asked the architects and engineers to study the cost of Giglio's alternative and moving the town hall annex to the existing police and court building, which is an aspect of Walter's plan.

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