On Monday, December 18, Solutions Architecture presented the Town Council with its concept plan for a combined headquarters for the Verona Police Department, Verona Rescue Squad and the Verona Fire Department station located opposite Everett Field. Solutions Architecture, which is based in Verona, is the firm that designed the recent expansion of the Verona Public Library.
The Verona Police Department has been operating from a cramped, outdated space inside the Verona Municipal Building since 1978. The Verona Fire Department’s Station #2 was built in 1948 when fire trucks were far smaller and there have been cracks in some of its walls. In the 1970s, the Verona Rescue Squad moved from Station #2 into a former carriage house on Church Street just off Bloomfield Avenue, but it, too, has been in need of repair. (The Verona Fire Department’s Station #1 has been in the newest building, the Verona Community Center, since 1998.)
Over the decades, various Town Councils have sought to relocate the services from the oldest buildings. But new locations were limited and, when they did appear, the town was either outbid or couldn’t afford the project. But Verona’s municipal finances are in better shape now and the Council has made fixing infrastructure a priority. In early February, a plan was floated to put the Police Department on a slice of the field at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, but the Verona Board of Education, which owns the property, quickly quashed it.
2 Large Lots, And An Opportunity
Then, just days later, the lots at 217 and 225 Pompton Avenue came on the market and the town worked quickly with the owner’s estate to secure them. The lots, which are between Cambridge Road and Vincent Place, represent 2.5 acres of space that slopes back from the road north of the Linden Avenue intersection. The Town Council held a special meeting on April 25 to approve a $1.75 million bond to purchase the lots. The town then commissioned a wetlands survey to determine how much of the surface could be covered by a new building.
Solutions Architecture’s plan is a two-story, 35,000-square-foot structure that accommodates the needs of all three services now–and for well into the future. Frank Messineo, the firm’s founder and principal, worked with VPD Chief Christopher Kiernan, Rescue Squad President Frederick Tempesta and VFD Chief Steven Tedesco to create an efficient building that has ample space for people, gear and vehicles.
Solutions Architecture has worked on plans for individual first responder buildings since 2015. Messineo demonstrated that, while its concept would fit easily on the Pompton lots, it would not fit on some of the other site ideas that have been tossed about in the community, like Our Lady of the Lake’s Lakeside avenue parking lot. The state Department of Corrections (DOC) has reviewed the plan because Verona is currently out of compliance on many DOC mandates, and Mayor Christopher Tamburro said the Town Council will hold feedback meetings with the public soon.
Space For Verona Police, Rescue Squad, Fire Department
Just under half the space in the new complex would be for the VPD. There would be covered parking spots for police cars, a separate entrance and holding area for detainees, and three cells, one of which would be reserved for juveniles and female detainees. (Detainees are held locally while being processed but transferred to Essex County for longer and overnight stays.) In place of the cramped female officer space in the municipal building that Chief Kiernan has said limits the VPD’s efforts to hire more women, Solutions Architecture’s flexible layout would have a large women’s locker room and lactation area that could be shared with Rescue Squad volunteers, many of whom are women.
The VPD areas would include a secure evidence storage room and armory, as well as a separate area for processing sensitive tests needed in police work now. Solutions Architecture also planned ways for Verona to earn revenue from the new building: The large dispatch area could position Verona to become a regional dispatch hub, conference rooms could be used for paid training by all first responders and there is even a virtual firing range, a novelty in police departments that lets officers train on weapons and simulate responses in buildings.
The Rescue Squad space would include two bunk rooms and a quiet room, which Tempesta said could help the squad to get more overnight shift volunteers, as well as students and work-from-home volunteers. It would have a safe storage area for medical equipment and oxygen containers, and a decontamination room that would be shared with the VFD. The vehicle bays would accommodate all existing rigs, with room to grow, and the ceilings over the bays could support a second story if extra space is needed in the future. There would also be a cafeteria and kitchenette spaces, and a fitness room open to all three departments that would overlook an interior courtyard. The design envisions a two-level parking surface behind the building, structured to take advantage of the site’s natural grade and cut the cost of retaining walls.
“It is a very efficient building,” Mesineo said. “It meets the requirements of each of the departments.” Messineo said that while everything the firm does has the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building principles in mind, he does not believe that LEED accreditation is worth the cost of certification.
“We threw a lot at them,” Chief Kiernan said of the first responders’ requests to Solutions Architecture, “but we always kept in mind how to better serve Verona’s public safety program. Shared spaces were at the forefront of our thinking.”
Next Steps, Cost
The overall cost of the building was not discussed at Monday’s meeting but it will be part of future presentations. While it will likely be substantial, Verona would be able to sell the site now occupied by Station #2 and, while the Rescue Squad owns its building, the town might be able to share in the proceeds of selling that site as well. Messineo said that once the concept plans and budget are approved, there would be six to eight months of engineering design work, followed by 20 months for construction.
“The training rooms will make it possible to do training close to home rather than having volunteers travel to Middlesex County,” said Tempesta, who believes that response times will improve once the settings are more conducive. “It will encourage people to stay in-station more, and it gives us the facilities to keep our volunteers safe.”
You can watch the presentation in the video below. MyVeronaNJ will append Solutions Architecture’s plan to this post as soon as it is available.
Photo: Screenshot from Solutions Architecture presentation to Verona Town Council, December 18, 2023