Virginia Gazette
By: Wesley Wright
June 28, 2017

Two of the city’s most integral buildings, housing police and fire personnel, do not serve the needs of those departments, according to architectural firm GuernseyTingle.

Both buildings — police headquarters at 425 Armistead Ave., and the fire station at 440 N. Boundary St. — were built in the 1970s. The City Council is trying to decide whether to renovate the existing buildings or build anew.

Even though both departments are housed in substandard buildings, constructing a combined-use facility for them would be too costly, according to the James City County-based firm. The estimate said establishing a common building for police and fire could cost an extra $4 million.

The fire department should be razed and replaced while firefighters work from a temporary location, the firm said, while police operations can take place at their current location while the department is renovated.

“These are 40-year-old facilities,” said GuernseyTingle senior vice president Andy Cronan. “There’s no surprise, there are a few things that need to be done there.

The study cost $35,300, city finance director Phil Serra said.

Fire department

The city’s fire department building needs to be replaced, said chief Pat Dent.

Firefighters are based in the 18,053-square-foot building along Armistead Avenue. The new building should be closer to 34,459 square feet, according to the firm’s projection.

“The mechanical systems are aging,” Dent said. “As you buy new apparatus, that apparatus gets bigger. The space really doesn’t really completely accommodate what we’re being asked to do.”

Tight space makes it a hassle to moves equipment on and off of the property, said Andy Cronan, senior vice president at GuernseyTingle.

“The fire site is very constrained from the standpoint of moving equipment on and off the property,” Cronan said.

GuernseyTingle suggests the city knock down the existing fire station and build anew on the same 2.9-acre site. During the construction, the fire department should establish a short-term station where staff could operate.

The process would require the entire department to move off-site for as long as 15 months, the firm said. Building the temporary fire station would cost $675,000 to $1.7 million, excluding the cost to set up information technology in the temporary site.

“It’s a whole set of issues when you’re dealing with an aging building,” Dent said.

Dent said as the diversity of the department has changed, so too should the sleeping arrangements at the department. There are just three beds for women at the department.

“We not only have a growing number of females in the department, but there’s also a good number of females who are volunteers,” he said. “We let them stay overnight when we can accommodate them.”

“When we built the fire station 40 years ago, the firefighters were all male,” said councilman Doug Pons at a June 5 meeting.

The new fire station options could cost $11.7 million to $13.2 million dollars, according to the firm’s presentation.

Police department

Representatives from GuernseyTingle believe the police department’s Armistead Avenue building has “significant operational challenges.”

Renovating the building, the firm said, would cost about half as much as knocking down the existing facility and building another one.

The existing headquarters is 14,775 square feet. In its presentation, GuernseyTingle included options for renovation that would entail adding more space to the building.

The two additions they posed would add as much as 6,414 square feet.

“I’m glad you could find some value in the current police station, with being able to renovate it,” Pons said. “There are some cost savings there.”

In whatever building the police use, space is at a premium. State law used to require that police keep records tied to cases for six months. It now says departments are required to keep their records for 25 years.

During a January City Council retreat, then-interim chief Andrew Barker said that his staff’s current building is not big enough to house all of the records it needs.

“We are already expanded beyond our capacity,” Barker said in January. “We’re just not allowed to get rid of the stuff that we could have before.”

City Council allocated $3.6 million toward renovating the building during the 2018 fiscal year. GuernseyTingle believes renovating could cost $4.4 million to $5.2 million.

Moving police to a temporary facility would place their ability to respond to emergencies in jeopardy.

“It’s really serving all parts of the city from a central spot,” Cronan said. “If you start to move from the central spot, it starts to become a response time problem.”

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