Police station fails fire, handicapped codes
Police station fails fire, handicapped codes
CUMBERLAND - Mayor Daniel McKee calls it the "Andy of Mayberry" police station, a reference to a 1960s sitcom about a rural America sheriff and his Aunt Bee.
But the comparison tells only half the story.
Yes, the Diamond Hill Road Cumberland Police Station is out of date, but worse, it's teetering on dilapidated in some of the basement areas.
And its often embarrassing structural deficiencies are putting the 44 uniformed officers in danger, says Chief John Desmarais.
Built as a single-story in 1960 and then extended upward a floor in 1989, today's station on Diamond Hill Road is a rabbit warren of hallways and doors that scream overcrowded at every turn.
Not a single toilet facility is handicapped-accessible and there's no elevator, making the entire second floor inaccessible to those in a wheelchair.
The station's shabby physical condition may be the lost issue of recent weeks as town leaders focused on questions raised about where to site a new one.
Still, McKee was saying this week that the "silver lining" of the siting question is the acknowledgement that the $12.5 million replacement station on November's ballot is a necessary expense.
The Valley Breeze tour of the station on Monday began on the second floor, where boxes of files are piled in front of the desk of Desmarais' assistant, Patti Tweedy. The records room, where they belong, is so jammed that the floor is actually bowed under the weight of stuffed file cabinets.
The wooden - yes, wooden - fire escape up here is behind a door that takes all of the chief's strength to shove open.
As Desmarais escorted The Breeze, he said several times he worried about revealing too much about the structural issues.
"This is a tough situation for me. I want to get out all the information, but not portray it as if this is "Fort Apache: The Bronx," he said, referring to the 1981 film.
Over the years, he says, he's invested in regular maintenance of the utilities and engaged the town's Public Works Department, but hasn't asked the Town Council for many facility upgrades.
He's reluctant to invest in a structure, he says, that he's hoping can soon be abandoned.
"But what do we do as a police station now?" he asks. "Do we put the proverbial lipstick on a pig?"
Just last week at the Town Council meeting he said the station doesn't meet the state fire code because it has sprinklers only in the cell block.
He was due this week before the Rhode Island Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal & Review in search of a waiver based on the town's current effort to replace the station.
If that fails, Cumberland will have no choice but to supply the $30,000 sprinklers.
Desmarais says residents attending the annual open houses haven't seen the worst problems because "we want to be positive."
But he says now that he's considering a public facilities tour. "My intent is not to give the town a black eye. I'm not one to point fingers, but there are real issues."
He adds, "I don't know what citizens will think if they come in here," but he says those who have toured universally tell him that it's worse than they expected.
"People say it looks good from the outside," he notes.
Those coming from outside of Cumberland often remark that they "thought Cumberland was a more affluent community."
He points to the main lobby area where the walls are a painted 1960s-era paneling.
Desmarais says he suggests to anyone who tours the whole station, "As you go through, think about viewing it from these three perspectives - you as a citizen of Cumberland, you as a citizen of another community, you as a person who works here."
McKee says that despite the controversy over the site, he's counting on residents to approve the $12.5 million bond, and says he's suggesting after all the Monastery debate of late to see a building committee do a townwide study of all available sites. (See related story Page 3.)
The financial timing is right, he says, because the town has paid off $20 million in bonds in recent years while borrowing just $3 million.
McKee said he fears the newly available funds from retired debt service will be absorbed by operating budget spending.
One of the most talked about problems at the station is the stairway from the basement "sally port" where prisoners are brought in to the second floor holding cells.
Three or four times a day, handcuffed, sometimes intoxicated, suspects are brought upstairs, a procedure that puts the officers in danger, says Desmarais, as well as the prisoner.
The sally port is narrow, just large enough for a cruiser, and cannot accommodate a rescue vehicle. That means that any prisoner arriving or leaving by rescue must be taken through the station's front door.
Heating and air conditioning are another example of the catch-as catch-can expansion through the years. Today, there are eight different furnaces, with two in the attic accessible only through crawl space. Others are tucked in closets throughout the station.
The summertime electrical bill for air conditioning is running $1,100 a month, he said.
Overall, the station's meeting rooms are small, and as a result restrict the size of gatherings, including enrollment in the popular Citizens Police Academy.
Highlights of the tour included:
* A second-floor cell intended to segregate female or juvenile prisoners from the men was taken over as an office, leaving an interior large closet to serve that purpose.
* The main floor houses the station's $80,000 computer server that's cooled by a cross-your-fingers window air conditioner, not the climate controlled equipment generally required for massive computers like Cumberland's.
* Lockers for the three women officers, not planned for in 1960, are inside a storage closet. "(The women) are treated like second-class citizens and that's not right," said their chief.
* Men and women share the same dimly lit shower room where the concrete wall is falling apart in chunks.
* The radio system that links to not only cruisers, but rescue and fire trucks and the town's highway trucks, are shoved together in a hot closet of the garage without air conditioning.
Directly overhead is the cell area and a network of plumbing that Desmarais worries is vulnerable to prisoner vandalism that could release water onto the radio system.
* Tiles on basement ceilings are covered in large flakes of paint that hang down as if designed as an overhead white fringe.