By Liz Premo
Atlantic News, Thursday, April 15, 2004[The following article is courtesy of the Atlantic News]
HAMPTON — "The Big House." In Hollywood it's a stark 1930s prison drama starring Wallace Beery, Chester Morris and Robert Montgomery — a decades-old movie which still sees air time on the Turner Classic Movie Channel. In Hampton, it's an imaginative way to describe the town's new police station, currently under construction a short distance away from its moldy, cramped and crumbling 40-something-year-old predecessor.
Indeed, the growing 22,500 square foot facility is a sight to behold. Rising up against a picturesque horizon that includes scenic salt marsh flora and fauna as well as Seabrook Station's hulking containment building, the new police station "is really taking shape," according to Hampton Police Captain Jamie Sullivan. "It's very exciting." Another cause for excitement is the anticipated November 2004 opening of the facility.
Groundbreaking for the $6 million building project took place in late June of 2003. Since then, the project has steadily taken shape, easily catching the eye of anyone who happens to be traveling along Brown and Ashworth Avenues. Progress has been carefully documented on the Hampton police department Web site since Week 1 — August 8, 2003, when a construction trailer was put into place amongst the 560 parking spaces (many of them occupied) in the town's municipal parking lot on Ashworth Avenue.
"Work is very much underway," says Sullivan, who took a tour of the facility last Thursday.
That ongoing work is described week by week, picture by picture on the HPD Web site. For instance, Week 2 saw the work site fenced in; a portion of the asphalt surface was removed during Week 3, ground up and recycled as base material for the building site; and foundation pilings and utility poles were installed during Week 4. Work taking place during Week 5 (what was the first week of September 2003) saw "H" beams sunk in for the foundation, the arrival of "rebar," and continued excavation of the work site. Construction progressed into Week 14 (foundations poured), Week 22 (steel for the building frame arrives, the frame work begins to take shape), and on to the present.
Most recently, Week 36 (documented April 9, 2004) saw concrete poured to finish the first floor. Staging has been put up, insulation and plywood are on the roof, and the interior is generally starting to take shape with laborers putting up studs and completing other interior work. The booking area and some of the other rooms and offices are already identifiable to a discerning eye.
"Many inside walls are up [and] concrete slabs are in," continues Sullivan, adding that outside concrete ramps were expected to be poured this week.
Sullivan reports that the expected opening date which the police department "is using now is the first week in November. We fully expect — once everything is complete — that we will be very pleased to show off the new station."
It's a date that in some respects has been a long time coming. Hampton voters first approved the construction project (approximately $5 million at the time) in March 2000. A lawsuit held up bonded building projects in the state, including the police station, for several years until a resolution was reached in federal court. While in legal limbo, costs for the project had gone up about $1.3 million, and it had to go back to the voters, who once again gave their approval. The building project — designed by architect Jeff McElravy and awarded to Strafford-based building contractor David R. Whitcher — finally got underway almost three and a half years after it first appeared as a warrant article on the 2000 town ballot.
For Hampton Police Chief Bill Wrenn, the wait has been an even longer one.
"I've waited my whole career for this," says Wrenn, who became the department's chief in 1995. "We're really excited about it." The chief echoes Captain Sullivan's prediction for the project's completion. "We're making good progress, and still anticipating being able to move into the facility in November," he says, giving high praise to Clerk of the Works Dick Violette, who acted as liaison during the recent Route 1/Highland Avenue reconstruction projects.
"[Dick] put his whole heart and soul into this building," says Chief Wrenn. "He's doing a great job."
Though the new police station will mean a much-needed major upgrade for department personnel (and potential lawbreakers who may find themselves in the facility's holding cell), a major concern for the beach area is the number of municipal parking spaces that have been sacrificed for the sake of the project. Hampton Parks and Recreation Director Dyana Martin estimates that only 50-100 remaining parking spaces will be available to residents and vacationers, "if we're lucky."
Of the three parking lots her department manages at the beach (the others are located on Church Street and Island Path), Martin says the Ashworth Avenue lot "[is] our most popular parking lot." The lot typically brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars during the months it is in operation, revenue which goes back to the town to offset taxes. And though in past years the lot has been opened in April to accommodate Casino Ballroom concert-goers, construction materials stationed on the site will likely prevent any general usage until mid-May, according to Martin.
In spite of this loss of revenue, supporters of the police station appear to be generally pleased with the progress that has been made, and have often commented on the size of the building as compared to the current facility. According to Captain Sullivan, Town Manager James Barrington will likely coordinate a ribbon cutting ceremony signifying the official opening of Hampton's new police station, a "big house" which its workforce more than likely can't wait to call "home."
For more information and ongoing weekly updates on the Hampton police station building project, visit www.hamptonpd.com and click on the construction link.