City police are trading places with a homeless shelter.
After the George D. Libby Army Reserve base, near Southern Connecticut State University, announced in 2005 it would likely vacate the property by the end of 2011, both the New Haven Police Department and the Columbus House, a homeless shelter group, applied to use the property. Because both the police academy and Columbus House qualified for the free property, the city negotiated a deal with the homeless shelter in order to gain the base. In a deal presented to the New Haven Board of Aldermen Community Development Committee Wednesday night, the NHPD’s police academy will relocate to the base while the Columbus House, which had planned to turn the base into low-cost apartments, will refurbish a rundown housing project at 109 Frank St. in the Hill neighborhood.
“This property is wonderful. It’s a win-win for both the city and Columbus House,” Robert Smuts, New Haven’s chief administrative officer, told the Board of Aldermen.
The police academy plans to use the base’s garage to alleviate cramped space in current facilities and build an indoor firing range, which the academy currently lacks, once funds are secured.
An act of Congress has ensured that the federal property will be free for applicants who plan to use it for public good, and to persuade the committee to approve the deal, Smuts stressed that the base will be free for the city.
Smuts said the base would need very minor renovations before being used by the city, including the addition of a locker room and a bathroom.
Columbus House had originally planned to build 52 low-cost apartments on the base property, with 26 set aside for the homeless. Under the new plan, Columbus House will convert a housing project, Valentina Macri Court, into 17 low-cost apartments.
“This is one of those deals where 90 percent of the people are happy,” said Ward 30 Alderman Darnell Goldson, who brought the proposal before the committee with Smuts.
The other 10 percent, Goldson said, are the residents who live near the Police Academy’s current location, where the academy’s outdoor firing range will continue to disturb neighbors after other NHPD facilities have transferred.
Until the city secures funds to build an indoor firing range at the new location, the police academy will continue to use its old outdoor firing range in Beaver Hills.
“Everybody knows that firing range has been a horrible burden to the neighborhoods around it,” said Peaches Quinn, a Beaver Hills area spokeswoman. “But Rob [Smuts] has done a fabulous job with picking up what we’ve been saying.”
Smuts could not produce a timetable for securing funds to build a new firing range but said that it was one of his top priorities. He estimated that an indoor range could cost between $5 and 6 million, adding that the money could be obtained from the federal government.
The deal between Columbus House, the NHPD, and the local communities has taken roughly two years to put together, Smuts said.
“It’s a sensitive document; any potential changes could throw this thing back to the beginning of the process,” said Goldson. “So I would ask this committee to approve the document as it is.”
Senator Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 has already secured $225,000 in federal money for the new firing range.