Middlebury police need more storage space; new facility likely

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury officials are discussing ways to solve the local police force’s current lack of reliable storage space, a problem that could drive the need for a new building near the department’s headquarters off Seymour Street.
The silver lining to the problem is the community already has money on hand that could at least partially bankroll a solution.
It was on May 13, 2003, that Middlebury residents voted 477-324 in favor of building a new, $1.78 million police headquarters at the site of the town’s former wastewater treatment plant on Lucius Shaw Lane, a short street off Seymour Street. Original plans had called for maintaining police services within an expanded municipal building complex at the intersection of South Main and College streets. But voters rejected that more ambitious, $6 million project in November of 2002.
So police and town officials went back to the drawing board, deciding to make do with the old municipal building while agreeing to solve the police department’s space needs off-site. Police had been housed in the basement of the old municipal building in dark, damp and cold conditions with little natural light.
In deference to cash-strapped voters, officials designed a new police station that would meet the department’s basic needs for 21st-century law enforcement. The new facility includes a lobby, multi-use/training room, conference room, patrol offices, evidence storage area, investigation office, garage entrance and training room housing donated equipment. It was also designed for potential expansion, should the need arise.
While Police Chief Tom Hanley remains very satisfied with the new police headquarters 15 years later, he’s concerned about the lack of weather-tight outbuildings to house the department’s varied — and in some cases expensive — vehicles, equipment and supplies, as well as hazardous materials taken into evidence.
Police officials back in 2003 elected to forego equipping the new station with substantial garage and storage space in order to keep the construction price down. The department had already been repurposing, for police vehicles and equipment, three vacant outbuildings that had been used by the old wastewater plant until it was decommissioned in 1994. Those outbuildings include a former sand filter facility, a control building and a small brick structure.
“We came to the realization we had this storage space on site, so we could reduce the scale of this new (police headquarters) and thereby reduce the cost,” Hanley recalled. “We would continue to use existing storage and then have a plan. ”
That plan included fixing the garage portion of the treatment plant’s former sand filter building to extend its useful life as an adjunct storage facility for the police department.
“None of those plans came to fruition,” Hanley said of the repairs.
The old sand filter building has no heat or electricity, and doesn’t have a functioning door. It houses cruisers, traffic cones, some office supplies, street signs and bikes. It’s a structure that was unusable until around six years ago, when public works crews filled in and leveled (with clean fill and stone) a deep chasm in the structure that had limited its usefulness, according to Hanley.
“It’s a shelter, is all it is,” Hanley said. “But the roof and structure are in good shape. That at least allows us to keep cars out of icy and snowy weather for the most part.”
Of less use is the former sewer plant control building, now employed for bulk storage, training materials, emergency lights and spare parts for police vehicles.
“The building is so bad right now — you may as well not have a roof on it, because whatever the roof is made of is turning into ooze that falls and covers everything… You walk on the roof and it’s spongy,” Hanley said.
That’s especially not good for the department’s mobile command vehicle, which is essentially a miniature police station on wheels, deployed to major crime and accident scenes. The department will now have to store the mobile command vehicle outdoors during warmer months to prevent the “ooze” from ruining the vehicle’s paint job, Hanley explained.
The third outbuilding police use is a little brick building that stores hazardous waste and potentially combustible materials. 
“If something ever exploded in there, you’d have these missiles going all over the place,” Hanley warned.
Police officials aren’t willing to risk placing a lot of weather-sensitive items in the current, deficient storage space. That means the headquarters is filling up with things it wasn’t intended to handle.
“The building was not designed capacity-wise for the storage of material we have, like ceiling tiles, spare carpet patches,” Hanley said. “That shouldn’t be kept in ice-cold storage, so we have to displace things in here.”
Ideally, Hanley would like to have a three-bay garage with a carport for police vehicles. The facility should have electricity and heating, with enough storage for found bikes and the department’s miscellaneous equipment and supplies that can’t be accommodated in police headquarters, he said.
Police are working with the town’s Infrastructure Committee to plan for a new structure, for which there’s no firm timeline, according to Hanley.
Siting a new building could be somewhat of a challenge. While the former sewer plant property includes 12 acres, part of it is dedicated to a solar farm. And a vast array of underground pipes and other wastewater infrastructure still permeates the land.
Fortunately, the town has around $500,000 set aside from a legal settlement with manufacturers of the Middlebury’s current wastewater treatment plant in the industrial park. That money, according to Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay, could be applied to clearing the old sewer plant outbuildings and erecting a new police department storage facility.
Meanwhile, the Middlebury Department of Public Works could also use some new storage for its vehicles and equipment, according to Director of Operations Dan Werner. Public works is currently headquartered off Route 7 South, and solving the problem on-site doesn’t look like an option, officials said.
“The site here is encumbered by right-of-ways to adjacent and rear properties,” Werner said.
Public works officials explored the United States Forest Service’s former Middlebury station, also off Route 7 South, but the land is too steep and the buildings are too small, according to Werner.
“We’ll keep working on it,” Werner said of facilities planning.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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