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Town mulls police department sites

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal may need to purchase the police department's new home rather than use a building already owned by the town.

Representatives with BKV Group gave a report to Town Council at a work session Monday on its search for a potential site to house the police department. The town hired BKV Group, a Minneapolis-based architectural firm, several months ago to look at the stock of empty buildings and properties around Front Royal.

BKV identified and evaluated 13 vacant properties in the project's preliminary phase, Town Manager Steven Burke said Tuesday. Front Royal owns one of the 13 properties, Burke said.

BKV ranked the properties and came up with the top three that it saw as potential homes for the police department, at least from a preliminary study, Burke said. Of the top three, one property is publicly owned but not by Front Royal. Private owners hold the remaining two properties, Burke added.

Town Council went into a closed session at the end of the meeting with the consultants to discuss the search. Burke explained that council met in closed session because two of the properties are still held privately and discussing the sites in public could affect the town's bargaining position should it choose to negotiate for them.

Burke would not give more details about the top three properties, including the one held publicly, because the town has not yet approached the owners about the site.

BKV now plans to further analyze the three sites and diagrams. It has approximately a month to continue studying the top three sites. At the end of that time, BKV is expected to come back to council with its recommendations, Burke said.

"At the conclusion of that, the town will start negotiating with one or all of the property owners to hopefully secure a location for the new police headquarters," Burke said.

Overcrowding at the police department headquarters prompted the town to begin the search for a new building. The idea of constructing a new facility also has been broached, but BKV was hired to do a study.

The now vacant Front Royal Town Hall did not make the cut of the top three properties as far as function, adequate parking and other criteria used to rank the sites.

BKV has not indicated whether or not any of the properties would need renovations to suit a police department.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

"That was not necessarily taken into account in the preliminary study," Burke said. "The basis was identifying available property and then placing a imprint of the recommended footprint for a police department as well as including the required space for both public and law enforcement parking, and once that was determined it basically ranked how the site could be developed."

Burke noted that some sites did have existing buildings and included whether or not the footprint of the building would suffice for a future police headquarters. Some buildings did not offer enough space for the future needs, Burke said.

An environmental issue with the current police department building accelerated the need to relocate the agency. Ceiling plaster crumbled and fell through the dropped ceiling onto some computer equipment in the patrol room in mid August. An environmental analysis of the damage showed that the plaster contained asbestos, according to information from Chief Norman Shiflett.

While the department had the dropped ceiling replaced, the presence of asbestos is prompting the town to look for a new home for the police department, at least on a temporary basis. The town has asked Warren County if it could relocate the police department to the former Sheriff's Office headquarters. The town and county may negotiate a deal for the police to use the facility vacated only recently when the
Sheriff's Office moved to the new public safety building. The Board of Supervisors discussed the request in a recent closed session.

The former Sheriff's Office site remains equipped for a law enforcement agency, Shiflett said. However, the chief said he hopes the department doesn't need to stay in the building more than two or three years before the town can find a new, permanent home. Shiflett noted that he understands the county has other plans for the former Sheriff's Office.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley pointed out that the 20-year facilities plan calls for Warren County to demolish the former Sheriff's Office and, in the short-term, turn the space into parking for the courthouse. In the long term, the county plans to use the site for a new juvenile and domestic relations courthouse when needed, Stanley said Tuesday.

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