By Steve Jusseaume
Hampton Union, Tuesday, July 1, 2003
[Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi]
HAMPTON - Expressing thoughts filled in equal measure with pride, anticipation and relief, town officials broke ground last week on a new police station - only 40 years after the department moved into a now decrepit concrete-block structure, described for the past four decades as a "temporary" station house.
Under steamy skies Thursday, as an oppressive sun sank in the hazy west, officials took turns thanking everyone in sight and then posed for pictures as still and video cameras recorded a moment some had worried might never come.
"This is a historic occasion," Town Manager James Barrington told about 75 people gathered for the 6 p.m. ceremony in the parking lot behind the current station.
"We must thank the voters for their vision, and for the money. The citizens (of Hampton) understood the need."
Hampton Police Chief Bill Wrenn understood the need almost from the time he came to Hampton in 1974.
"What a great feeling. ... I didn't think this day would ever come," he said from a portable podium with an artist's rendering of the $6.3 million facility taped to the front.
He recalled the "ups and downs, the legal battles" in trying to get the new station off the drawing board, referring to at least one major lawsuit in Exeter that for a time nullified one town vote approving the project, and other setbacks in securing the financing.
Wrenn laughed when he recalled the nondescript concrete-block building where the department has been located since 1963.
"This was built as a temporary structure ... 40 years ago," said Wrenn, smiling, as he briefly noted the history of the beach station.
Several in the crowd remembered when the station was located virtually on the sand, on the east side of Ocean Boulevard, just south of where the Sea Shell Stage is now. But in the early 1960s, the state devised plans to renovate the site, and the local station house had to go.
In 1962, the Planning Board completed a study on a new police station, eventually recommending a site on Ashworth Avenue, behind the Casino Ballroom. In December of that year, a special Town Meeting approved $80,000 for construction of a new facility.
"I have 29 years in this department, 29 years living in that building over there," Wrenn said, pointing to the crumbling structure.
Selectmen Board Chairman Brian Warburton spoke briefly, relaying congratulations from Assistant Commissioner of Safety John Stephen.
"This is a very proud moment for me. This is another milestone among many over the past several years. This is about (a community) working together; this is a great job (done) and a great night," said Warburton, who then read from a letter from Stephen.
"The protection of our homeland begins right here in the streets of Hampton and in every police station in this country. Whether it's intelligence gathering, following up on leads, protecting people and property ... the end result is a safe and secure environment for all. Having the appropriate shelter and backing of the community is a necessary ingredient in this fight," Stephen wrote.
Wrenn picked up on the theme. This new station will provide "a safer, healthier work environment, be a positive professional image for our officers to work in; morale will improve 100-fold, and this will be a source of community pride," he said.
Michael D. Whitcher, president of Strafford-based Whitcher Builders, the firm that won the construction contract, also attended the groundbreaking. Wearing a Hampton Police Department cap - one of a couple of dozen the police had handed out - Whitcher said he looked forward to beginning construction at the site.
"This facility will have a lot of specialty items, including quite an elaborate package of surveillance," Whitcher said. "This will be a state-of-the-art police facility."
Construction is scheduled to begin in earnest by the end of July and will take about 15 months, said Whitcher.
Then, 20 silver shovels were passed out and everyone took a turn getting his or her picture taken in front of a 3-foot by 30-foot patch of asphalt dug up and replaced with sand for the occasion.