New Bel Air Police headquarters projected to cost $8.5 million to $11.4 million

The three options for a new headquarters space for the Bel Air Police Department — two are renovations and expansion of the existing building and the other is a new, freestanding building — are expected to cost between $8.5 million and $11.4 million.

The public got its first look at the proposals Tuesday night at a meeting at the Bel Air Town Hall, where residents and town staff, including police department employees could ask questions of the project leaders from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates.

The town hired the architectural firm, which designed the Northern and Southern Precincts of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, in March for $43, 290.

Town officials have been discussing for years the need for new police department space and studies were done on the building, which houses the police department, in 2006 and 2009, according to Kevin Small, director of planning and community development for the town.

Small reiterated those needs Tuesday.

“Conditions in the building prompted us to take another look,” Small said to a packed town hall. “We’re hoping the third time’s a charm.”

He cited lack of storage for evidence, water leaks, inadequate work spaces, narrow hallways and deficiencies in the mechanical infrastructure.

The meeting Tuesday drew some residents, many police department employees, the town commissioners and other town staff as well as local elected officials, including County Councilman Jim McMahan, a former Bel Air Police officer and the son of a storied Bel Air Police Chief.

“The overall reason for us being here as a community is to assess a need,” McMahan said. “I believe we’re long overdue as far as a need is concerned.”

The first two options include renovating the existing police department space, two-story expansions to the north and additions to the rear of the building, while the third would be a separate building on the town-owned lot on Hickory Avenue across from the parking garage, according to the plans presented by Crabtree, Rohrbaugh senior project manager Todd Vukmanic said.

One of the considerations in developing the plans was inclusion of the town’s ancillary offices at the Bel Air facility, such as the information technology and economic development departments, he said.

The first option, at $8.5 million, includes renovating the 7,000-square-foot lower floor of the town building, a 15,000-square-foot addition to the existing building and minor renovations to the first floor, Vukmanic said. It includes the IT department, but not economic development.

The second option, at $9.9 million, would include a 19,080-square-foot expansion to the existing building (larger than the expansion in the first option) and renovation of the lower floor and the first floor. It includes IT and economic development.

“It’s very similar, but the two-story addition is larger,” Vukmanic said.

In both proposals, the downstairs would be the more secure areas, with investigative offices, the sallyport to transfer detainees and secure storage areas for evidence, while the chief and administrative offices as well as public meeting spaces, would be upstairs.

In the first option, the entrances to town hall and the police department would be shared, whereas in the second option, each would have a separate designated entrance, Vukmanic said.

The third option would be a 21,514-square-foot building on a separate site that would include significant site work, Vukmanic said, with an estimated cost of $11.4 million. It would include renovations to the lower floor of the existing building, where the town could still consolidate all of its ancillary offices.

“A standalone police building gives the police department its own identity,” Vukmanic, who did not prepare a floor plan for this option, said.

Police Chief Charles Moore said some of his staff were involved in development of the plans, but he hadn’t asked them outright which option they preferred.

As the leader of the agency, with 32 sworn officers and civilian and administrative employees, Moore prefers the least expensive option.

“It’s the most cost effective,” Moore said, “and the town leadership wants to move to a one-stop atmosphere.”

He has security concerns about a free-standing building.

“It’s close to the parking garage, and you never know in this day and age with threats,” Moore said.

A question was raised about what would become of the war memorial if the existing building were expanded — would it have to be moved?

Small said the monument to honor members of all the military branches would be incorporated into the design of the new building.

“How, though, has yet to be determined,” Small said.

Moore said he has started reaching out to local veterans groups to make sure they are involved in the planning.

Costs for the project are expected to go up about $300,000 every year it’s not done, said Richard LeBlanc, the design director and principal in charge of the project from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh, in response to a comment about how long the town has been discussing a police department renovation.

Maryanna Skowronski, executive director of the Historical Society of Harford County, said she knows what it’s like to work in conditions like Bel Air’s Police Department. And while she acknowledges the agency’s need for more space, she would prefer the standalone option.

“I’d hate to see more concrete on this end of town, blocking the view into the park,” Skowronski said. “I’d rather see a separate building or expand out the back.”

She also asked where the department would be working during construction.

Small said the town needs to first determine which option it will go with before that’s worked out, but said it’s likely the department will work where it is while the northern expansions are built, then move into the expansion while the remaining work is done.

McMahan said a police department is the every day ambassador of the town, it’s how residents see the town face to face, day in and day out.

If the police department is not proactive, no one will want to shop at Harford Mall or move into the community, he said.

“Our concern is making sure our police department has adequate facilities, adequate leadership and the training,” McMahan said, “because the police department has to be accessible, it has to be user-friendly, because if it’s not, it’s dysfunctional.”

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