New, bigger police station in sight for South County

$5 million project to be finished by next summer

May 21, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

For years, making repairs to Anne Arundel County's Southern District police station has been a little like putting new floor mats in a car that doesn't have a windshield or an engine: There wasn't much point.

No major improvements could be made to the two-story station - a converted turn-of-the-century town hall on Route 2 in Edgewater - without gutting it, county officials would say. The station's electrical system couldn't handle security doors. Lockers for female officers couldn't be built because there was no room.

Now, after decades of planning to address the problems, the county has taken a first step in constructing a new station just off Route 214 to serve the growing South County population.

"We've waited a long time for this," Joseph Cifala, president of a community group that meets regularly with police officials, said at a groundbreaking ceremony last week. "Let's keep digging."

The $5 million project is scheduled to be complete by next summer. It will nearly triple the current space at the station to more than 15,000 square feet with upgrades in security and public accessibility, police said.

`Living roof'

The new station also will be the first county-owned building with a "living roof," a portion of which is covered with plants and shrubbery to reduce storm water runoff, according to project managers.

For officers, a new station will mean no more tiptoeing around on the strategically placed metal plate that covers the sagging floorboards placed in the dispatch room to keep people from falling through to the basement.

Patrol units will no longer have to keep equipment in the boiler room. And community groups who are meeting with police commanders to discuss serious public safety issues won't have to ignore the sound of gurgling pipes and flushing toilets.

2 decades of planning

Plans for the new station have been in the works for more than two decades. But the project's start date was delayed again and again - until this year.

Cifala, a former county officer who is president of the Southern District Police Community Relations Council, said some improvements were made over the years. Smoke detectors, a wheelchair ramp and a public restroom were all added. But, he said, the new station will fully accommodate the officers and the community's needs.

"It really will be a morale booster for the officers," Cifala said. "And a happy police officer [makes] a happy neighborhood."

Assurances on noise

Some residents in the South River Colony development have expressed concerns about noise from the police helicopter and increased traffic from the new station, which will be built along the edge of townhouses at the intersection of North Stepneys Lane and Mitchells Chance Road.

Capt. Thomas A. Suit, Southern District commander, and other police officials have met with their new neighbors and relieved many worries, said Greg Abbott, president of the South River Colony Conservancy.

For example, residents were assured that the helicopter would fly over the post office instead of the houses, Abbott said. The fueling station - which residents feared would be an eyesore - will be screened by landscaping, he said.

"We're pleased with the design," said Abbott. "It should fit in with the character of the neighborhood."

He added, "Police presence is always a positive factor. We don't have a crime problem here, but I imagine if anyone thinks about targeting this area, they'll think twice."

Public meeting room

Many South County residents are looking forward to using the 160-seat public meeting room, which Chief P. Thomas Shanahan promised to share with the community.

The project also is a nod toward the need for beefed-up police facilities in the growing area, where cornfields and barns are quickly being replaced by condos and shopping centers. Covering 58 square miles, the Southern District is the largest police district in the county.

Security improvements

The new station will feature an updated communications system, a more secure booking area and holding cells that will be monitored by video and audio, officials said.

The large public meeting room could also be used as an emergency shelter, according to project designers.

Despite the flaws in the current station, Shanahan said some officers are sentimental about the old building.

"It's kind of like moving out of your family's house," he said.

But, the chief added, "it's time to modernize and move forward."

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