I'd almost forgotten about plans to build a new public safety complex in downtown Hartford, until Mayor Eddie Perez and Sen. Joe Lieberman announced this week that a $1.7 million federal grant was available to assist in the development.
It's been five years since city voters agreed to spend $40 million to construct the 125,000-square-foot building on city-owned property on High and Ann streets, north of I-84. Was it just me, or did you also think that ground would be broken by now?
Meanwhile, the price keeps going up. A 1998 cost estimate was $35 million. Two years later, the price tag was $5 million more. Tuesday, Perez said the latest projections are that it'll cost $55 million - almost a 40 percent increase - and even that number is premature.
Starting to sound an awful lot like the Hartford Public High School reconstruction, which ended up about $20 million over budget.
It's always unsettling to see building projects that taxpayers agree to fund in good faith end up costing far more than what they expected. Yet few bother to put up a fuss anymore. As taxpayers, they're getting accustomed to the hosing.
"That's government spending," said Hartford resident Kevin Brookman. "With steel going up every day, the longer you delay it, the more its going to be."
If there's anything that's come out of these public referendums on building projects, it's Buyer Beware.
Perez points out that he wasn't mayor when the 2000 vote was passed, and he says he put the focus on rebuilding the schools and the library before turning his attention to the cop shop.
"I've been mayor for 3½ years, so that's not that long," he says of the timeline for the public safety complex. "Now, I'm concentrating on getting public safety off the ground. This serves as fulcrum and will be very strategic in expanding downtown west and north. And it brings the police department into community policing in a real way."
Before a shovel gets put into the ground next fall, there's still much to do - a design team has to draw the plans, a construction manager has to be hired and demolition and site work must be completed.
The building is scheduled to open in 2008, close to a decade after voters approved spending money for it. Maybe the federal grant will provide a little more impetus, though the amount allocated is minute when compared with the moving target that is this budget.
"It's long overdue," Brookman said. "I just hope when they do it, that they do it right and plan for growth, so that they're not there a year and find out they've already outgrown the space."
Perez, who is up for re-election in 2007, ultimately will be judged on the status of the city's schools, economy and crime.
He can already point to close to a billion dollars invested in new school construction and hundreds of millions in downtown development. But it won't amount to much if the perception persists that Hartford is unsafe.
"It definitely makes sense to get it downtown," Brookman said of the proposed public safety complex. "It's easier access, plus the visibility. You're going to have those cruisers coming in at all hours of the night and day and people are going to be seeing them downtown."
The 26-year-old Jennings Road headquarters is a dump and is adjacent to a city dump. Everyone knows a full burial is in order.
Note to Señor Alcalde: Get to digging.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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