The Town Council addressed the prospect of a new headquarters for the Verona Police Department at its February 6 meeting, giving more details on an idea that was first disclosed at a Board of Education meeting in January.
Chief Christopher Kiernan gave the Council a presentation on the department’s needs, which you can view here and in the video below. In some respects, they are not news: Verona’s 1978 Master Plan deemed the VPD’s facilities in Town Hall “inadequate.” When the town moved a firehouse out of Town Hall and up to the Community Center two decades ago, that alleviated some of the problems. But policing has become much more gear- and rule-intensive since then, and the current space can’t hold everything that needs to be in a modern police force. Kiernan also noted that the fact that the current space doesn’t have a locker room for female officers limits Verona’s ability to hire more of them. The current space is also run-down, sometimes from over-use.
“One of the problems with our general storage area in the basement is that it’s not only first aid supplies and resources, it’s also a lot of community outreach materials in there and a utility closet,” Kiernan said. “It’s also directly underneath our cellblock so if we have a visitor who is unhappy with their stay, they like to clog toilets or break plumbing and that water will pour down on these things here.”
And then the presentation got down to one of the possible solutions: Build the VPD a new headquarters on part of the H.B. Whitehone field along Gould Street. The image presented of that plan was done by the township engineer, not an architect, but it overlays a large building and parking lot on the entire west side of HBW’s field. The existing basketball court there would be eliminated, but replaced by two near the Community Garden.
The BOE has already signaled that is has some problems with the idea, from the minimal lease payments that would be made by the town to the potential for the school district to need the land for classroom space if current and future affordable housing plans result in a larger number of students enrolling in Verona schools.
When the meeting was open to public comment, Will Battersby, who lives around the corner from HBW, questioned the wisdom of additional building so close to the Peckman River flood zone. He also asked why the town offices couldn’t be moved to the Community Center Annex, allowing the VPD to expand in its current location. Kevin Ryan, who served on the Town Council for a decade, noted that Verona also needs to address problems with the Rescue Squad headquarters and the firehouse near Everett Field, and asked the Council to consider a solution that could meet the needs of all first responders. He also said that, while the Council was looking to acquire a site for the VPD at little to no cost, there is also the cost of building a new structure to consider.
In response to the public questions, and others that had been emailed to the Council, Mayor Alex Roman said that town officials have looked at other properties but was not more specific. “This is very early phase discussions,” he said. “This (HBW) was the one that we looked at as the most interesting because there is the space and it is already public property here in the center of town.”
- You can watch the presentation starting here: https://youtu.be/wFiNevlRDwE?t=691