Ground broken on police station

Last Friday, on a bare lot just north of the Village of Bear Trap Dunes on Central Avenue, Ocean View town officials held a long-awaited ceremony. After a two-month-long debate about the project and a month of silence, those officials, along with Willow Construction representatives, broke ground on the lot that will serve as home for the town’s new police station.

“We’re excited,” said Kenneth McLaughlin, Ocean View’s chief of police. “Ever since I came to Ocean View in 2001, almost immediately we discussed the need (for a new station).”

Before moving to the temporary triple-wide station this year, the town’s police department worked out of a 600-square-foot building on Oakwood Avenue.

“We didn’t have any kind of holding facilities,” McLaughlin said. “The staff was working in the same room as prisoners were held. It wasn’t a secure location.

“There were a lot of safety concerns,” he added. “We’ve tried to address all of those concerns with the planning of the new building.”

A town committee, chaired by Councilman Bill Wichmann, started designing the station for the town’s eight-officer force in August of 2003. On April 19, 2004, Wichmann and the chief presented to council for the first time the design plans for a two-story, 15,000-square-foot station that includes three holding cells, at which point council members voted unanimously to request bids for the station.

The town awarded a construction contract to the Willow Construction — which entered the low bid of about $1.97 million after town officials expected a number closer to $4 million — on March 7, leading to Friday’s groundbreaking.

“It took longer than I hoped it would have,” Wichmann said of the approval process, “But we’ve got it in sight now. The contract says that the construction is estimated to take up to a year. A year from now we should be having another ceremony.”

Opposition to the station, its size and purpose first arose in early February. Comparing it to a similarly-sized Maryland station that houses more than 100 officers, financial committee member Cliff Mitchell questioned the station’s size, saying it was too big for the small town-, eight-officer-force.

Mitchell addressed those concerns at a Feb. 21 Long Range Financial Planning Committee meeting before co-authoring a letter with fellow committee member and current Councilman Roy Thomas to town officials on Feb. 27.

In that letter and a subsequent presentation by Thomas on March 7, the pair called the design process “flawed,” in part because it didn’t include a needs assessment. Because there was no such documentation, they questioned the need for many of the rooms and amenities inside the station and lobbied for a redesign, asking town officials to wait on awarding the construction contract.

Council voted to award the contract that night, however, but decided to revisit the station’s design at a March 21 workshop. After a lengthy discussion on March 21, town officials accepted the original design, citing expectations that the town will likely grow into the station, and turned the project over to Willow Construction.

“We have an excellent police force and we needed the station,” Mitchell said. “(But) I still feel it’s too large. With alterations, it could have been made more flexible for the future.”

Thomas doesn’t seem to still hold such dissent about the project.

“I think it’s an exciting thing for the town,” he said. “It’s something that’s been in the agenda here for a long time. Many things transpired but we decided to move forward, so we should do so as quickly and professionally as possible.”