As plans continue to be developed for a new town hall in Millsboro, and more space for the overcrowded police department, the town council will meet early next month to review revised proposals and reduced costs from two architectural firms.
When they gathered for a special session on Thursday, Aug. 8, council members looked at plans for buildings and considered estimates, before a three-hour dialogue that resulted in calling for a smaller town hall as they consider moving the police station from its current location, at 307 Main Street, into the current town hall building, after renovation.
The transition would take about four years.
“We want them to identify ways to sharpen the pencil,” Town Manager Sheldon Hudson said about the architects, after the meeting.
“We are asking that both Freddy Bada with Moonlight Architecture in Lewes, who we hired to design town hall, and Mike Wigley of Davis, Bowen & Friedel Inc., in Salisbury, who is designing the new police station, come back with firm prices and concepts that the Town can consider, come back with concepts and some numbers — reasonable estimates what the new town hall might cost, estimates for both buildings. What can we do to avoid certain costs? Maybe using different materials, like a metal roof vs. a shingled roof,” Hudson told the Coastal Point.
The council will meet for another special session at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5.
“There is also talk of making the council chamber and public meeting room a little smaller than we were originally thinking about and using the meeting room as an overflow room for town hall meetings, with monitors,” Hudson said.
Early talk of building a 300-seat council chamber was changed as discussion progressed, especially after Councilman John Thoroughgood said cities like Salisbury and Fruitland, Md., don’t try to provide hundreds of chairs, especially since the only meetings that draw large crowds are those with contentious matters on the agenda.
“We want a nice facility, a very attractive gateway, something striking. It’s also important to the Town that it not be ostentatious or a Taj Mahal. We want it to fit in with the surrounding area downtown,” Hudson said.
It will take about two-and-a-half years to put up a new town hall, and another year and a half to renovate the existing structure for police department occupancy, for a total of four years. The two projects probably can’t be done concurrently, Hudson said, because town hall can’t be occupied while renovation is underway, unless it could be accomplished without creating noise and dust that would irritate employees.
Mayor Michelle Truitt asked Assistant Town Manager Jamie Burk to make a list of pros and cons for three options: building a new police station, moving the police station into existing town hall and constructing a new town hall downtown, or having one building for both administration and the police.
“I have to tell you, I’m not in favor of that,” said Truitt, whose husband is a police officer.
“It’s not secure. With the liability in this day and time, I just don’t have a good feeling about it,” she said.
Police Chief Brian Calloway, who attended the meeting, said joining the two could be disruptive for civilian employees.
“If they see us bringing in a prisoner, they are going to want to know who that is,” he said.
Joking, Hudson said, “No. That would never happen.”
Hudson said it’s likely federal standards for police departments will become more strict, so it wouldn’t be viable.
Wigley unveiled a plan for a 16,000-square-foot police department, with front entrance, entrances from both sides and sally port — a secured, controlled entryway. A two-story building would cost about $6.4 million, he said, while renovating town hall for the police department would cost $3.9 million.
Calloway said he would like to “see the staff be given something right away,” without having to wait four years.
The police department should be able to accommodate 30 police officers, with separate areas for male and female officers, he said.
Thoroughgood said moving the police department to the town hall would provide more room for it to grow, since it’s a spacious building, although it would displace the town museum.
Calloway said the police department, in years to come, might also need a dispatch center, with towers and related equipment, and that should be considered.
One drawback to keeping the police station downtown, he said, is, “people watch us every day.”
“They know who is working, who is not working. The restaurant next door to us was burglarized. We caught the guy. We interviewed him and asked him why he did it, and he said because he knew only one police officer was working. He could see there was only one car there,” Calloway said. Since then, officers’ parking habits have been changed to avoid that, Calloway emphasized.
Regarding homeland security concerns, the chief said, being downtown could make the police department vulnerable for attacks, such as a truck ramming the building.
“That’s a concern of ours. If police were here, in the existing town hall, we wouldn’t have that type of traffic,” he said. The existing town hall is at 322 Wilson Highway.
“If I needed to get to Route 113, I could almost run there from here. I could be there in a short period of time, but from Main Street downtown, it can be difficult for us to get to Route 113 as quickly. From here, if I need to get to 113 and 24 for a major accident, I can get there very quickly,” he said.
Another drawback, Wigley said, is parked police cars would be kept behind a fence — not a welcoming sight for guests arriving to town.
“The perception of driving in and the first thing visitors see is the police department, they might wonder, “Gee, what kind of crime do they have?’” Councilman Tim Hodges said.
Bada presented options for a new town hall, showing fewer parking spaces than at the current building.
Hodges asked why town leaders were considering a building without adequate parking, adding that the town hall parking lot was full when the council met on Aug. 5.
But Thoroughgood said there’s enough parking downtown, with 138 spaces only one block away from where town hall is set to be built. Additional land could be purchased to make a parking lot.
“I’m game either way. I’m a team player. I don’t know if we’re trying to get too much too quick or we’re not thinking clearly. I think we need more concrete numbers from Freddy. I need some concrete answers for me to make a decision. … Where are we going with this thing?” Thoroughgood asked.
One option Bada showed council members was for a 13,000- to 14,000-square-foot building, smaller than current town hall, which is 17,000 square feet, with the entrance in the center, a two-story lobby, meeting room, council chamber, employee break room with view of the river, patio area and six work stations, with space for two more.
Glass would be used in construction for a nice view of the river, Bada said.
Another option is renovating the existing police station, using that space for the council chamber and meeting room, and building a new 10,000-square-foot building, Bada said, estimating the cost to refurbish the 3,000-square-foot police station at $125 per square foot, or $375,000, plus site work.
Bada said the existing police station is in good condition and that council meetings could be held there. The room currently used for booking could become a break-out room, and has plumbing for the council’s private restroom, he said. The mechanical room would need a new system.
But Hodges objected to council meetings being held in a separate building, saying it would be inconvenient to “run across the parking lot” carrying papers and informational packets from one place to the other, especially on rainy days. Hodges said he’d rather see the land the police station is on used for additional parking space and a new town hall built.
He suggested a fourth option: buying property on Mitchell Street for the police station.
“It’s in the middle of town, and it might give us the best of both worlds, except for downtown presence,” he said, but Truitt argued it would “go against all of our work and wanting town hall presence.” Truitt said Mitchell Street is very heavily traveled, and Thoroughgood agreed. Also, Truitt said the police station is open 24 hours, and that could disturb neighbors there.
Hodges again objected to building a new town hall without enough parking, but Truitt said the Town has already paid for design work at the site. Also, to make room for the new town hall, an auto parts store and an old house that was once a retail establishment were demolished.
What was spent is “a drop in the bucket” compared to the mistake of “building something that isn’t right,” Hodges countered.
“Parking, it will come. There will always be places we can get for parking,” Truitt said.
Hudson asked Hodges about purchasing land for parking later on, but Hodges called the idea “kicking the can down the road.”
Hudson said a Realtor had told him the owner of the Mitchell Street property is not interested in selling, and Hodges suggested Thoroughgood talk to that owner.
Councilman Brad Cordrey said there are public expectations about how the land downtown is going to be used, especially since there are signs there stating the property is planned for a new town hall.
“And now we’re yanking it back. I don’t like that. It looks a little bit deceitful,” he said, adding, “We’ve gone beyond the point where we can pull back.”
“We need to figure out the solution to these problems before we start building something there,” Hodges said, suggesting Bada redesign plans for town hall, shortening its length and adding the aspect of using the existing police station property for parking. In the meantime, he suggested determining the number of parking spaces on Washington Street, on Main Street and in every parking lot, including at the fire hall. He suggested reducing the size of the council chamber so there is room for 120 or 150 people, instead of 300, thereby cutting required parking to half as much.
“If we can bring all those things together, chances are we’re going to have not only a building that functions well, but it will save us money,” Hodges said.
Councilman Larry Gum said the council was discussing “a project that is multi-million dollars without us knowing what direction we’re going.”
“I’m kind of upset about how this is going on. We’ve beat this horse to death, and we are no further along. … I don’t have anything to make a decision on. My priority is the police station. I hate to see the chief wait four to five years to get a new police station. That upsets me terribly. Cost and time,” he said.
Gum said Millsboro doesn’t have to accommodate the whole city by offering so many seats in the council chamber.
“Maybe our goals were too friendly and we need to accommodate what we need to operate efficiently … but I still don’t have anything to look it. This building was built to accommodate Millsboro, and the people had the foresight to build this with room to grow. Now we’ve backed up 20 years and we’ve shrunk ourselves into a hole,” he said.
“I don’t want to make a decision today and regret it,” Gum said. “If you’re going to do it, do it right — what we can afford, what we can’t. I think you have to be accountable to the public about why you’re sending all this money, making it a showpiece. I’m not interested in a showpiece. I’m interested in a functional building. … Is it a functional area, or is it something pretty to look at? That is my concern,” he said.
Cordrey said he wasn’t as concerned with parking as the others were and wasn’t opposed to a smaller council chamber. If a matter is on the agenda that will draw a big crowd, the meeting could be moved to another location, he said.
“Change in direction at this point now is going to hurt us more than anything. I am upset about the timeframe, because four or five years for the police — it is unacceptable — so that is a downfall, because it is a thing that is needed as soon as possible,” Cordrey said.
Hodges suggested looking for areas the municipality could buy to make parking.
“Look for it, plan it, get it in the budget,” he said.
Councilman Ron O’Neal said he wants to see the redesign Hodges suggested.
“Much still needs to be determined,” he said.
By Susan Canfora