Aldermen hear police station needs

VERGENNES — At their May 8 meeting last week, Vergennes aldermen continued to pare down their list of potential sites for a new city police station, and they heard Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel’s vision for what that station would offer his department.
Only five sites now remain on the council’s list, none in the central business district: a city-owned parcel off the north side of New Haven Road; another open parcel near the VELCO substation on North Main Street; and the Denecker Chevrolet dealership, Kennedy Brothers and Vergennes Building Supply buildings, also all on North Main Street.
Dropped from consideration last week was the Green Street property that houses the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union office. City Manager Mel Hawley said building owner David Shlansky, who also has offices there, told city officials he does not want to sell a building Shlansky himself just recently purchased.
Aldermen said they will continue to contact owners of existing buildings to determine the property owners’ level of interest in selling, and cross sites off the list if owners were reluctant.
That job may now be entrusted to a police station building committee created last week. Council members Renny Perry and Ziggy Comeau and former alderwoman Christine Collette will serve on that panel with Merkel.
There are no concrete plans, no exact square footages, and no price tags yet attached to the project. Mayor Michael Daniels said that can wait until aldermen determine they will be building new or renovating.
“First we’ve got to know whether we’re going with a pre-existing building or an open lot,” Daniels said.
Merkel referenced Middlebury’s 2003 station in his presentation, and Hawley said something approaching that 7,640-square-foot structure would not be completely unreasonable.
“I think that it is fair to say is would be comparable to Middlebury’s station inside. Certainly not larger,” Hawley said.
A 6,000-square-foot building at $200-per-square-foot, commercial-grade construction could cost $1.2 million, not including some fees, and Merkel is talking about a structure with a parking compound and an outbuilding.
But Hawley stressed that although he and Merkel have put pencil to paper, discussions are preliminary.
“We haven’t got to that point, really,” he said. “There aren’t any dimensions on any of our rough drawings.”
At the May 8 meeting, Merkel said the central need is for a building that would separate “operations” and administrative functions.
The operations side would have what is called a “sally port,” a secure garage that would allow police to bring suspects in and take them directly to interview rooms and holding cells.
“A sally port is really big,” Merkel said.
Critically, he said all work with suspects should be done away from the administrative side, including talking with victims and informants.
“At no time do they (suspects) have to go to the other side of the building,” he said.
Ideally, Merkel said Vergennes should build a station that would meet the city’s needs for 50 years. He said 10 officers would probably be sufficient; the force now has six full-timers, including Merkel, and four part-timers.
Among other amenities for the operations side, he recommended:
•  An office for patrolmen with separate cubicles.
•  A booking room with two separate cells and a detainee bathroom.
•  A juvenile detention room.
•  Two interview rooms.
•  An armory.
On the administration side, Merkel recommended:
•  Offices for the chief, sergeant and detective.
•  Two soft interview rooms.
•  A physical fitness and self-defense training room.
•  Rooms for evidence processing and storage.
•  A briefing room with a kitchen.
•  Public and police bathrooms.
•  Evidence processing and storage rooms.
•  A quartermaster room for officers’ uniforms and effects.
•  A lobby with an “admin office/intake/dispatch console.”
•  An administrative training room.
•  Locker rooms for men and women.
As well as equipment for the roughly 20 rooms, Merkel recommended a security compound with a “three-sided vehicle storage building with a cold storage area.”
Merkel said he had looked at stations in other communities, and spoken to other police officials before making his list of facility requirements.
“I’ve talked to other police administrators, and they’re pretty much in (agreement),” Merkel said.
Alderman Bill Benton said he will be curious to see what the cost is once the committee has settled on a site.
“It would be nice to get this sugared down and get the wish list out and see what the dollar figure is,” Benton said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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