A plan to convert the shuttered Riverhead National Guard armory into a new town justice court is being reviewed by town officials.
While a new court is badly needed to replace the antiquated court space located in the town police department building, the price tag to do that — likely to be more than $12 million — has Riverhead’s town board looking for other solutions such as a remodeling of the armory.
“If it were to happen, it won’t be in 2016 and 2017,” said Supervisor Sean Walter. “Our police justice court complex is problematic to say the least. This has to be done. We’re exploring every option to see what is most cost-effective.”
The National Guard Armory on Route 58 was originally town-owned property, but sold to New York State in 1953 for $500. The contract contained a clause that the 5.7-acre property would be given back to the town if it were no longer being used as an armory. The National Guard facility was returned to the town in 2011.
New court construction is a lot more expensive than building regular office space because of security concerns and court requirements. The existing Riverhead Town Justice court lacks courtroom space, sufficient jury rooms, an adequate secure detention area, and does not have private rooms where lawyers can meet with their clients.
Remodeling of the armory into new court space could cost about $11 million, officials said.
The town is facing a likely budget shortfall of several million dollars in 2015 and again in 2016, because its reserve funds have been depleted and expected new revenue from the sale of land at the town-owned Environmental Park at Calverton is still likely to be a few years away.
Walter said the town could “swap debt,” as it has finished paying for the capping and closing at a town landfill, in exchange for new debt for a remodeling project for a courthouse.
If that happens, design work could start in two or three years, since the costs would not have to be paid until the work is completed around 2018.