Town police may move into old sheriff’s office

By Alex Bridges

The Front Royal Police Department needs to move out of its home sooner than town officials expected, but the department may not have far to travel.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office, vacant since the agency moved to the new public safety center, could fit the department’s needs, officials say.

Town Council agreed Monday to formally ask the Warren County Board of Supervisors to allow the police department to use the former sheriff’s office building at 23 E. Jackson St. The council directed Town Manager Steven Burke to send a letter to County Administrator Douglas Stanley indicating Front Royal’s interest in negotiating a deal to use the sheriff’s office for the police department.

The Board of Supervisors plans to take up the issue at its regular meeting next Tuesday, Stanley said Wednesday. The board will discuss the request in closed session because it falls under contract negotiation.

Police Chief Norman Shiflett explained Wednesday that on Aug. 16 pieces of plaster fell from the ceiling and broke through the dropped ceiling below. Plaster landed on several computers in the patrol room. No one was in the room at the time, Shiflett said. The plaster compound contains traces of asbestos, the chief said.

Shiflett said he hopes the department won’t need to stay in the former sheriff’s office for more than two or three years, but said space needs will prevent the department from moving back into the current space. The investigations division has since moved to Royal Avenue.

Officials have not yet looked into hiring a firm to conduct asbestos remediation on the building as recommended by an environmental expert.

Many buildings contain asbestos, but the substance doesn’t pose a health threat unless it breaks apart and turns to airborne dust. An environmental specialist evaluated the police department building and advised that all the plaster would need to be stripped from the ceiling.

“That’s quite an overhaul,” Shiflett said. “It would take an extensive measure to abate all of the plaster from this building.”

No one has complained about feeling ill as a result of exposure to asbestos, the chief said.

The debris has since been cleaned up and the dropped ceiling replaced.

“But we don’t know if more will drop,” Shiflett said.

Town officials suspect that work done several years ago to replace the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system in the building disturbed the plaster and caused pieces to fall, the chief said.

Front Royal leaders began efforts to help the department address its space needs by hiring a consultant to study the possibility of moving the agency into one of several buildings downtown or to construct a new headquarters. Shiflett said the consultant is expected to present a report on the findings of its study at the next council work session on Monday.

The recent incident has accelerated the department’s move from its current site though the agency doesn’t yet have a new permanent home. Shiflett noted that it took seven years for the sheriff’s office to plan and ultimately move into the new public safety building.

Shiflett pointed out that the sheriff’s office already comes equipped for law-enforcement operations. The sheriff’s office includes a communications center, a back-up generator, evidence and interrogation rooms, door locks and security cameras.

“It’s set up for police functions,” Shiflett said, adding that he worked in the building with the sheriff’s office for about 20 years.

The sheriff’s office has a few issues. The air conditioning unit needs to be moved from the jail roof to the sheriff’s office, Shiflett said.

“So how often would a police department be available like that?” Shiflett said.

Also at the meeting:

  • Burke reported that the town has requested the Department of Health for a two-year extension on a deadline to begin the process of making improvements to the water treatment plant to meet tighter standards. Burke advised that drinking water remains in compliance with current regulations.
  • Burke reported that the Department of Environmental Services plans to conduct work along John Marshall Highway and motorists should remain alert for construction activities.
  • Martha Shickle, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, reported that the Virginia Department of Transportation has asked for input from regional commissions on park-and-ride lots and suggestions for improvements to existing lots or locations for additional areas. Shickle noted that the lots serving the town and county remain mostly full. Mayor Timothy Darr told Shickle some dangers have arisen in the commuter lot on U.S. 522. Drivers entering the lot from the highway keep their high speeds, endangering people walking to commuter vans and buses. Also, some vehicles have been struck in the lot, Darr said. Shickle said the commission would get in contact with the sheriff’s office and see if law enforcement can monitor the commuter lot.
  • Director of Planning and Zoning Jeremy Camp advised that the town plans to hold its first public workshop Thursday in conjunction with the Envision Front Royal project. The workshop will be held from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the town administration building, 102 E. Main St. Envision Front Royal is a website [envisionfrontroyal.com] the town is using to collect input and suggestions to help staff and elected leaders work on the Comprehensive Plan. Camp said the site has attracted more than 800 visitors who posted more than 80 suggestions since it went online in July. Staff has now begun the analysis of the suggestions and input from visitors. The town plans to offer the public a second chance to participate by holding a workshop from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 26.
  • At the request of Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker and resident Tim Ratigan, council plans to discuss the proposal to add the date of Front Royal’s establishment to the town seal.
  • Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com