Published in the October 18, 2017 edition


WAKEFIELD — The town has settled on a plan to rectify the deficiencies on the police side of the Public Safety Building and the $7.7 million-solution involves expanding the building out by 10 feet in the rear and 14 feet in front. Space inside would then be reconfigured to best serve the needs of the Police Department. Town officials hope to bring the plan to Annual Town Meeting next spring. If approved, construction could begin in 2019 and finished by early 2021.

Permanent Building Committee Chairman Joseph Bertrand and Janet Slemenda of HKT Architects in Somerville met with the Board of Selectmen this week to go over the proposed upgrades to the 15-year-old Public Safety Building.

Bertrand pointed out that the initial study for the existing Public Safety Building was completed in 1998, meaning that the programming review process for the current building is already almost 20 years old. He added that after the last reconstruction of the Public Safety Building was finished, the Police Department had less space than they had before. He noted that there have been vast changes in the service and operational needs of modern law enforcement agencies in the past two decades and the present building is now inadequate to meet those needs. 

He said that in September 2016, HKT Architects was selected by the town to conduct a feasibility study for the Public Safety Building. This work included a review of the existing facility, an assessment of safety and operational aspects of the building and an evaluation of current and future space needs for the Police Department and Fire Department, although the primary focus was on the police side, which has the most pressing needs.

The PBC  and HKT worked closely with the police administration and officers to determine the current and future building needs of the Police Department. The plan they settled on includes reconfiguring and renovating the first floor entry and lobby sequence, adding a three-story addition in front of the police building, renovations within the existing police Administration Building and a new addition onto the sally port in the rear.

The new plan will also place police dispatch back on the first floor, meaning there will always be a police officer visible when someone enters the lobby.

Slemenda reviewed some of the findings of HKT’s study. She said that there was a shortage of space in the sally port and no area for the police to impound vehicles. A site blind analysis, she said, found that the Police Department was in need of 4,100 square feet of additional space. She said that structural engineers determined that the current roof of the building could not support a vertical addition, so the decision was made to expand out horizontally.

A new lobby would be put in with dispatch and the records office off the lobby so an officer would be there 24/7. Other areas within the building would be reconfigured to better meet the needs of a 21st century police department.

Selectman Ann Santos, an attorney who worked for years as a prosecutor, said that she had an opportunity to tour the current police headquarters and was “shocked” by how inadequate it was for present day law enforcement needs. She observed that the dispatch area was inadequate and there was nowhere to privately interview a victim of domestic violence.

“We would do it very differently now,” Santos said. “Policing is very different now than it was 20 years ago.”

Selectman Edward Dombroski had questions about the structural assessment. He said that he was troubled that there were so many issues in a relatively young building and wondered why the original construction was “sub-par.”

Bertrand objected to that characterization. 

“The building is not in sub-par shape,” he said, insisting that the issues were related to  space and operations. 

Slemenda maintained that the existing building is “very safe,” but acknowledged that issues that were found with the physical building could be related to the low-bid process or to shoddy construction. She noted the today there is more oversight required in municipal building projects, including an owner’s project manager to represent the town’s interests. 

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio agreed with Dombroski.

“I don’t think it was the best-built building in the world,” Maio said. But he agreed with Slemenda that things are done much differently today, with more safeguards in place for the town.

Dombroski said that he just wanted it acknowledged that there were serious flaws the last time and wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen again. 

Police Chief Rick Smith said that he agreed with Dombroski and Maio.

“I’ve been in the building for 13 years,” said Smith, who was hired as chief after the construction of the current building. “I’ve seen the deficiencies that got us to this point. The building will not get us another 15 years.” He pointed to bad sheetrock, leaks in the roof, issues with cameras in the holding cells, boiler problems and sprinkler issues. He applauded the work that had been done up to this point to try and find a solution.

Smith noted that if something bad happened as a result of the police being unable to provide service due to the building’s inadequacy, the town could be sued. But, he added, “We are going in the right direction.”

Santos said that she had faith in Smith to know and articulate the needs of a present day police department.

“That’s what was lacking the last time,” she said.

The next step will be to set up tours of the building for both town officials and the public, Maio said, before the spring 2018 Annual Town Meeting.

“We want to get the public on board,” he said.