New police facility taking shape in New Garden
● By Richard Gaw
On the morning of the last day in May, Southern Chester County Regional Police Chief Gerald Simpson stood on the muddy periphery of a construction project in New Garden Township, and squinted into the morning light toward the progression of his dream.
There it was, the nearly complete new home for Simpson and the members of his department, rising above the rocky concrete and the deep divots that were filled in by late spring rains. Admittedly, Simpson said that he's had many moments like this in the last several months, that owe these small pockets of awe to the many years of frustrations, approvals and designs that it took to get to this point. Several years ago, the New Garden Township Police Department had to evacuate its former home – which stood just behind the new facility on 8934 Gap-Newport Pike – because of an asbestos problem – that forced the unit to wedge into an 1,100 square-foot set of trailers for the next several years.
Yet in 2013, the silver lining and the saving grace for the department – which became a regional police force in January 2018 – was beginning to take shape. Simpson and former New Garden Township supervisor Bob Norris toured several newly-built police facilities in the region on a fact-finding mission to see how police departments were working in the confines of their new buildings. In February 2017, their research was folded into a relationship with the Wilmington-based architectural design firm Tevebaugh Associates.
No stranger to the design of police facilities, Tevebaugh designed the 128,000-square-foot Paul J. Sweeney Public Safety Building in New Castle, Del., which houses all public safety operations in New Castle County; and the 22,000-square-foot public safety building in Rehoboth.
In February of 2017, Tevebaugh's Sean Goodrick and Jason McGuire gave a presentation of the facility's design to the township's supervisors that unveiled preliminary plans for an 11,716-square-foot, single-story, L-shaped facility.
On July 16, 2018, after more than two years of presentations, architectural renderings, preliminary approvals and wrangling over where to find the money to pay for it, the township's supervisors approved the construction of the $4.3 million new home for the regional police department by a vote of 5-0.
A formal groundbreaking ceremony followed in September 2018, and construction officially began last October. To Simpson, the new facility, which is scheduled to be completed this August and become functional in September, is the proper foundation for a modern police department.
“We finally got the cart in the right place behind the horse,” said Simpson, whose department works out of temporary headquarters on Starr Road. “Finally, the facility fits our function. We're no longer fitting our function with the facility. We've been a very adaptable agency, and several people have asked us why we don't keep doing it that way, but that's not how the industry works. We've been very fortunate that we haven't experienced a terrible event that may have cost this township untold amounts of dollars, because we did not have the capability and facility to conduct policing according to standards.”
As contractors continue to put the finishing touches on the three components of the building, it's apparent that the unit's new home will come with all of the trimmings of modernism, workability and connection to the public it serves to protect.
Its “Softened” or community area will include a 400-square-foot lobby and a 540-square-foot community multi-purpose room, which is equipped with a flat-panel TV, tables for up to 36 visitors and a seating capacity for up to 90. Just beyond the room is a galley kitchen, which will be used for special event dining preparation and refrigeration, and a public restroom.
Just off the lobby and community room, the facility's “Hardened” or secure administration area will be accessible only to law enforcement officers and department staff. It will include offices and a conference room; a detective bureau area; interview, testing and IT rooms; and storage and locker rooms.
At the rear of the building, the facility's “Institutionalized” area will include three holding cells; arraignment and DUI processing rooms; and two sally ports for transportation of the incarcerated and storage of vehicles retained as evidence.
“In order for it to fully function properly, a police department facility has to flow a certain way,” Simpson said. “We designed this facility with best practices in mind, and as we pursue our intention to become an accredited agency, we had to design this building to fit the best practices of our industry.
“I think we've accomplished that. Its flow fits what we do as
a daily business.”
Simpson gave a lot of credit to the township's supervisors and township manager Tony Scheivert for their diligence in keeping this project on the front burner of township objectives.
“These elected officials and our township manager have stepped up and faced this head on,” he said. “The concept of a modern police facility has been kicked around for a very long time, but this is clear evidence that they are dedicated to the public safety of their residents. It's been great to be the recipient of that dedication.”
Board chairman Steve Allaband, who also serves as the Chairperson of the Public Safety Commission, spoke at the facility's formal dedication last September.
“It's taken close to 20 years, to my knowledge, to get to this point,” he said. “We are building a building for the community, which should serve the community for the next 50 years, or more. I take public safety very seriously, and I believe that if the employees of the department have a better environment to work in, it allows them to serve the community better.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.