The City Council’s Budget and Finance subcommittee has given its OK to the $19.3 million renovation of the leaky and obsolete Gloucester Police Department and District Court building at 197 Main St., a project which has been in the planning stages for several years.
The subcommittee voted 3-0 for the loan order to fund the fixup of the 50-year-old stark brick station and courthouse. A City Council public hearing on the project is scheduled for Tuesday, March 28, at 6 pm on Zoom.
Project officials said Thursday if the council supports the funding, the renovation could be completed by January or February 2025.
The project — an interior renovation save for windows — has ballooned in recent years in terms of scope and cost. It was initially seen as a window replacement project.
However, the cost will be defrayed by nearly $5.2 million in rental payments over 30 years from the state thanks to a recently negotiated amendment to the courthouse’s lease, officials said. The court occupies about a third of the building.
“This is a long-needed improvement and the amount in increase in officer safety, the increase in accessibility and the general improvement for public access I think more than justifies the renovation,” police Chief Ed Conley told the subcommittee.
Laundry list of problems
Over the four years Conley has been chief, he said water has found its way into roll calls, detectives and other offices, and the basement.
Broken pipes have damaged and caused mold in records storage.
Toilets have leaked from the court’s bathroom into the station’s hallways.
Detainees have intentionally caused contaminated flooding by plugging and flushing toilets in their cells.
The outdated heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and lack of ventilation keep the station hot in the summer and cold in the winter. There are residential air conditioners in the windows. The locker room’s showers are decrepit and nonfunctional.
In addition, the building lacks proper entry and general access doors. Fire suppression systems are either non-existent or out-of-date.
The firearms range is out of compliance with tiles falling from the ceiling. There’s a lack of dedicated training space and outdated information technology and dispatch equipment.
Conley said the project would correct this.
The new detention facility will have seven cells, two of which will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, something that is lacking now.
There will be upgraded cameras in the detention area, and toilets will be flushed with a remote system so they cannot be used to flood cells. There will be improved lighting, and the booking area will be redesigned to make it safer.
There will be electronic access controls for entrances to the main station floor, and there will be a secure interview room in detention for high-risk detentions.
The station’s currently “unwelcoming” entrance adjacent to the courthouse entrance will also be improved.
The station’s live firearms range will be removed and converted into a MILO virtual simulator that uses large movie screens to project various scenarios a police officer may encounter. There will also be a proper women’s locker room, Conley said. Plans call for an improved gym facility and secure sally port.
Mayor Greg Verga led a presentation Thursday on the project with representatives of architect Dore & Whittier, the owner’s project management firm, and WT Rich Company Inc., the construction manager at risk, along with city officials and state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester .
Verga said the project will tackle 30 years of deferred maintenance in a building built in the early 1970s.
“As you may or may not have heard, up at the courthouse they are basically dealing with buckets catching water leaking through the windows,” Verga said.
The first loan order for the project for more than $600,000 for design dates to 2018.
Verga said when he became major at the start of 2022 the project budget had grown to somewhere between $8 million and $12 million.
He was, however, reluctant to move forward without a commitment from the state that the courthouse would be staying put. He said General Counsel Suzanne Egan and Chief Financial Officer John Dunn were able to negotiate a lease agreement for more than $5 million for the project from the state.
“That indeed to me is a commitment to stay,” Verga said.
“We feel that it is very important that now we are at a pivotal point in trying to ensure the court remains open and viable and serving the people of Gloucester and of Cape Ann, as the mayor indicated, for at least the next several decades,” Tarr said.
Tarr said several years ago he was able to secure $2 million in a state bond bill for the project. He said he and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, have been working on getting the money released.
Ethan Forman may be contacted at 978-675-2714, or at [email protected].