Former Harford County Sheriff William J. Kunkel walked through the Sheriff’s Office headquarters building recently, as he and members of his family got an early glimpse of the extensive exterior and interior renovations made to the facility in downtown Bel Air.
“You’ve come a long way,” he told current Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, who led Kunkel and his relatives, as well as top county government officials, on the tour late Friday afternoon, June 28. They were part of a larger group of elected officials, current and former sheriff’s office deputies and their families, as well as members of the community who gathered outside the building for a dedication ceremony followed by tours.
The three-story building at 45 S. Main St., which was renovated at a cost of about $4 million, was opened to the general public Saturday. People could take tours and also meet deputies with the K-9, animal control and community policing units, visit the H.O.P.E. House trailer with its displays about preventing youth drug addiction, as well as other agency units dedicated to public safety.
“This was a major capital project and an investment of taxpayer dollars ... as you tour this building, you will think it is brand new,” Gahler said during a dedication ceremony Friday, preceding the tour.
Gahler, who has been sheriff since 2014 and was re-elected to a second term last year, said the headquarters building “needed some serious attention” after 55 years. The renovations started in the spring of 2018, and Sheriff’s Office officials shifted their headquarters to a nearby building at 101 S. Main St. Agency leaders and personnel began moving back about a month ago, according to Gahler.
He offered his sincere thanks to all involved in the project, including those with the Sheriff’s Office and county government.
“You have all built us a modern, functional and professional headquarters building,” Gahler said.
The sheriff later guided Kunkel and his family through the refurbished building. The tour included the unveiling of a first-floor conference room named for Kunkel. The room is set up for the Sheriff’s Office’s regular meetings with representatives of other local public safety agencies.
The group also saw refurbished spaces for records and equipment storage, information technology offices, areas on the first floor where deputies and agency officials can meet people visiting for job interviews or citizens filing complaints, several conference rooms, a suite of offices on the third floor for Gahler, his command staff and top administrative officials, even a basement fitness center filled with equipment purchased with money seized during drug investigations.
“The building is wildly impressive,” said Kunkel’s granddaughter, Meagen Walsh. “ I think it was just such a wonderful memory to be able to walk through it with him.”
Walsh, 35, lives in Northern Virginia and is the daughter of Kunkel’s daughter, Marie Kunkel, of Delaware. Walsh recalled that her grandfather gave her the nickname “10-8” when she was a child, which is a reference to the radio code meaning a deputy is “in service,” plus her birthday of Oct. 8.
William Kunkel is Harford County’s longest-serving top law enforcement officer, in office from 1963 until 1981. The current Sheriff’s Office headquarters was under construction when he became sheriff, and it was used for county government offices until county leaders shifted to the current administration building at 220 S. Main St. in the early 1980s. Sheriff’s Office deputies were headquartered in a building behind the facility at 45 S. Main St., which Kunkel called “the mess hall,” adjacent to the former county jail.
The former jail was torn down in 2013; inmates have been housed at the Harford County Detention Center on Rock Spring Road north of Bel Air since that facility opened in 1973.
Kunkel recalled having his office in a trailer parked in the lot of Courtland Hearth & Hardware on Bond Street. His son, Jim, who worked at the store as a teenager in 1968 and is a co-owner of the business, was on the tour Friday.
“This is really spectacular, well worth our tax dollars,” Jim Kunkel, of Bel Air, said. “Thank you, Barry [Glassman].”
Glassman, the Harford County Executive, was on hand for the dedication ceremony and tour Friday. He was with Kunkel and the former sheriff’s family as they walked through the building.
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Glassman said the facility is “a reflection of its time,” energy efficient and bearing new technology, and it can serve “another three or four generations here in the heart of Harford County.”