Proposed police station expansion will help alleviate 'growing pains'

Proposed police station expansion will help alleviate 'growing pains'

Capt. Edward Dolan, left, Deputy Chief Robert VanNieuwenhuyze, Chief Richard St. Sauveur, Jr., and Capt. Michael Rheaume stand in front of the sign asking residents to approve local question 8 on November's ballot: a $6.4 million bond to help expand and renovate the police station. (Valley Breeze & Observer photo by Melanie Thibeault)

SMITHFIELD - Built in 1972 to house 25 employees, the 42-year-old Smithfield police station is suffering from some "growing pains" and security issues, which Chief Richard St. Sauveur said he hopes can be remedied through an expansion to the facility, but the fate of the project rests in the hands of voters who will be asked to approve a $6.4 million bond on Nov. 4.

Residents may notice a new 4-foot by 8-foot sign in front of the station, asking voters to approve the bond. The Friends of the Smithfield Police Department helped construct the sign on Sunday, Oct. 5.

St. Sauveur said that from the outside, the facility on Pleasant View Avenue looks picturesque, but with nearly 60 employees, it's "busting at the seams."

The expansion and renovation project will essentially double the size of the facility to 24,500 square feet, a number based on two needs assessment studies, according to the chief.

"Those two assessments are why we've had success getting to where we are, and why we've been able to get this project on the ballot," he said.

The project will provide "appropriate space and accommodations for employees" and visitors, which St. Sauveur said the station is "severely lacking" right now.

The facility, according to St. Sauveur, needs to be "totally revamped," and he said the department doesn't "want to unnecessarily spend" any more money on patching up problems, instead of fixing them.

One of the facility's biggest issues concerns the security of the lobby.

"Without going into details, it's not high security out there," St. Sauveur said. "If someone is on a mission to get in here, they're going to get in. That shouldn't be the case. It compromises the safety of all the employees in the building."

While most of the holding cells are located on ground level, one cell block on the second floor is "a sheet of paneling and couple of 2-by-4s away from civilian employees," St. Sauveur said.

"Their proximity is unsafe," he added. "We take the necessary precautions, but we're pushing our luck."

The renovation project will allow for an expansion of the holding facility downstairs and for "appropriate separation" of male/female and adult/juvenile cells.

On a safety level, the building is not handicapped-accessible. The outer doors to the station don't open automatically, the window in the lobby is too high for anyone in a wheelchair to see the dispatcher, and the only accessible restroom is downstairs.

"It's problematic to anyone seeking the services that they're entitled to," St. Sauveur said.

Security aside, the police department is just too small for the dozens of officers and employees.

Offices are small, printers are kept in the hallways, and locker rooms are cramped, not to mention that the women's locker room has no heat, which St. Sauveur said is "not appropriate for this community and these officers."

A meeting room on the ground level sits in the middle of all the action. St. Sauveur said that in-service training programs, as well as community program meetings, take place there, but people passing through to get to restrooms and locker rooms cause distractions. Not to mention that the room is located very close to the holding facility.

"It just doesn't work well," St. Sauveur said. "There are too many interruptions."

The station lacks a public restroom, an efficient HVAC system, and privacy at the dispatcher's station for anyone walking in to report an incident.

The dispatcher's office is cramped and cluttered "through no fault of the dispatchers." St. Sauveur said the area needs to be self-sustaining with its own bathroom and kitchenette.

Proposed renovations include a new entryway, handicap-accessible front doors, more storage for records and supplies, an administration wing, an elevator (which the station currently lacks), increased spaces for emergency management staff, expanded locker room facilities, a bigger crime lab for evidence processing, a sectioned-off roll call room, a private break room, an updated training room, and a community meeting room that can hold up to 50 people, separate from the operations of the police department.

St. Sauveur said that a more secure and bigger dispatch center will meet Homeland Security standards.

"We're hoping that on Nov. 4, people will vote to approve local question 8," St. Sauveur said. "There appears to be a lot of community support, and the community realizes the situation that we're in."

The $6.4 million bond is a significant decrease from the first needs assessment report. St. Sauveur said that the current number is "very reasonable to accomplish what we need to do."

The project has "future expansion in mind" if needed, he added.

If approved, St. Sauveur hopes that by the summer, "we're seeing some earth move out here."

The station will continue to remain open 24/7 during renovations, and St. Sauveur said that he hopes the project won't have too much of an impact on operations.