Sykesville will spend about $300,000 to double the size of its police station, giving the municipal law enforcement agency room for more offices, equipment, community activities and storage.
Storage for aging case files has run out at the Sykesville Police Department, built 12 years ago in a restored maintenance shop behind the Town House, seat of municipal government.
"We are purging files and storing them in an attic or a nearby locked shed," said Chief John R. Williams.
"Everything is secure, but when we need to pull a file from several years back, it is a real treasure hunt to find which hiding place it's in."
A small room, originally intended for the volunteer group that assists officers, is filled with office equipment, leaving no space for the volunteers.
"About 80 percent of our job is community service-driven," Williams said.
The six-member force and the chief could use a community room for the services they provide to the town's nearly 4,500 residents.
The 2,100-square-foot building needs more security, a high-powered generator and separate areas for various activities.
"It is very crowded here, with things stacked everywhere," Williams said.
And it is increasingly difficult to keep certain activities separate, as required by law, he said.
Fortunately, no detainee has ever been in the station's sole holding cell, dubbed "Hotel Sykesville," while an officer did a courtesy fingerprinting for a resident at a table, facing the cell. The areas for juvenile and adult processing must also be separated, Williams said.
The 24 hours during Tropical Storm Isabel when much of the town was without electricity forced Williams to operate out of the Town House with a gasoline-powered generator with only enough juice for a phone and one light. When the phone rang, the light usually went out, he said.
"It is imperative that a building sustaining operations have power," Williams said. "We need a command center."
The town lauded the present station as state of the art when it opened in 1993. Before that, the Police Department shared space with the mayor, the town manager and the clerk-treasurer in the Town House, a former residence. Officers handcuffed detainees to radiators until they could process and transport them to the Carroll County Detention Center in Westminster.
"The police got to the point then that they had to have a new facility," said Matthew Candland, town manager. "We are at the same point now. The department has outgrown the area and needs about twice the space."
Plans, approved by the Town Council recently, call for expanding the police station to about 4,000 square feet.
The town will finance the project with a low-interest loan from the state and plans to break ground this summer. Preliminary plans call for wings on either side of the building, work that will enable officers to continue using the station during construction. The new station will have a gabled roof, exterior paint similar to the Town House and architecture in keeping with historic downtown.
"We are not going to fool anyone that this is a historic building, but it will be architecturally compatible to surrounding buildings," Candland said. "We are tying it aesthetically to the Town House, so people know they are public buildings."
A new, more secure, fully equipped building could lead to national certification for the town police force, Williams said. Meeting stringent national standards could help with grant applications and reduce insurance costs, he said.
Sykesville police handle nearly 2,000 calls annually, most of them in town. Officers also provide backup to state police and sheriff's deputies whenever requested.
Those calls will increase as the town grows, Williams said.
"We are very fortunate here that town leaders think progressively when it comes to community needs," Williams said. "This expansion should take us quite a way into the future."