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Town Board may consider another location for a new justice court

Southold Town may build a new justice court behind the Peconic Lane Community Center, a potentially radical switch from earlier plans that would have located the court in a renovated town hall annex.

The previous $32.5 million proposal — which also encompassed demolishing the current Town Hall and building a new one — had already been narrowed in scope to fully renovate just the first floor of the annex and remediate, but not renovate, the basement and second floor. Town Board members had expressed concern about the high cost of the project, which would increase property taxes by nearly 6% over the next few years. 

Costs for a new Justice Court on Peconic Lane, not including the new town hall, would likely fall between $5.5 million and $6 million, according to town engineer Michael Collins, who presented a rundown of cost estimates for repairs and renovations to town buildings at last week’s Town Board work session. In suggesting the Peconic Lane location, he noted that Southold already owns the property, which is near a public bus stop and is big enough that the courthouse could be a single floor. 

“That’s something that, if we wanted to move forward with, we could tackle right now,” Mr. Collins said. He anticipates construction could start early next year. 

Costs to demolish the current Town Hall and build a new one continue to hover around $18.8 million, bringing the anticipated price tag for both to $24.8 million. 

Mr. Collins also presented cost estimates for renovations to Southold’s police department, a need Councilwoman Sarah Nappa has emphasized in previous meetings. 

Mr. Collins said work on the building, which likely needs 50% more space, could cost the town another $11 million. 

“I’m not 100% certain it would be cost efficient to try and build an addition … and tie it into that [existing] building,” he added. “Long term, it might actually be better, if possible, to build an extension onto the building, move certain vital operations into that and then demolish and rebuild behind it.” 

Ms. Nappa pointed out that $24.8 million for a new town hall and justice court, plus $11 million for the police department, would bring the total cost for the three to $35.8 million — just a little shy of an initial $37 million estimate, which had been floated prior to the $32.5 million proposal, to replace Town Hall and renovate the annex into a Justice Court. 

“That solves our three biggest problems,” she said. 

Tuesday’s renovations rundown also addressed estimates for replacing the Human Resource Center in Mattituck and expanding the highway barn on Fishers Island. 

Mr. Collins said costs for the center, which needs more parking and eventually 50% more space, could total $9 million. But he noted that the town would need to find a new site for the center, because “there’s no way we can expand on that footprint at all.” That project is not an immediate priority, he added. 

Projected costs for expanding the highway barn on Fishers Island by 50% come to $1.5 million. Mr. Collins said, however, that it’s a “very gross estimate” and the town might not even need to expand the building. “I think they may be able to get away with just an efficient building of its current size that has heat and other utilities,” he said. 

The court and highway barn are needed as soon as possible, according to Mr. Collins.