Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cape freeholders interested in partnership with Lower Township on building at Cape May County Airport (KWWD)

LOWER TOWNSHIP — Cape May County is interested in helping renovate the Public Safety Building at the Cape May Airport and using half of it for a new county central dispatch and emergency management facility.

The plan, however, depends on the township building passing structural analysis tests expected to be done in about one month and even then it may not have the support of Township Council, where three members want to move the police to the Villas section.

Freeholder Director Jerry Thornton said the county has been looking for a building for about one year and has also visited sites in Woodbine and Upper Township. The 55,000-square-foot Public Safety Building houses police, fire safety, municipal court and the local rescue squad. It has the space and is in a good location on high ground for emergency situations, Thornton said.

“It’s too much room for Lower Township. We could take half and they take half. Then I’ll have an emergency management building and they will save millions,” said Thornton.

The township estimates it would cost almost $4 million to construct a new police station in the Villas. Thornton said if the county builds a new building it would cost $4 million to $6 million.

Instead, he argues the two entities could split the cost of renovating the Public Safety Building, including a new roof estimated to cost around $2 million. The building has been criticized for being an energy hog but the two parties would at least split those costs.

“Maybe we can both get away with saving a few million dollars. The county is definitely interested in making a deal,” said Thornton.

The building is owned by the township, but the land under it is owned by the county. The township leased the land in 1995 when the police outgrew their small station in the Villas.

Council is split on the issue with the three independents on council pushing to construct a new police station in the Villas and the two Republicans wanting to wait for the county to make a decision.

The two Republicans, Erik Simonsen and Tom Conrad, on Monday night voted against doing some engineering work for a new police station, including soil tests, and back in May they voted against awarding a $192,000 contract to an architect. They lost both 3-2 votes. They did support some earlier votes, including buying a property in the Villas for parking the new police station would need.

Simonsen wants to wait until the county analysis is completed.

“I don’t know what the haste is if you can save the taxpayers a couple million dollars,” said Simonsen.

Mayor Mike Beck argues the building is not worth renovating. The township has already put $4.1 million into the building and it still has roof and mold problems. Beck projects it will cost another $5.8 million over the next decade.

The mayor also argues a police station should not be located at an airport but should be in a populated area served by public transportation. He also argues it should be connected to other government services. The new station would be next to Township Hall.

“The decision has already been made. We’ve been debating it for 10 years. The worst decision in this town’s history was to move over there,” said Beck.

Simonson is not only worried about the costs. He questions whether there is enough parking at the township complex and worries those waiting for court cases will be next to a school. While the courts would also move to the Villas, Simonsen said there is no plan to house the rescue squad or the fire safety office.

Beck argues the mere presence of a police station in the Villas will make people feel safer. Plans for a new station call for a 12,600-square-foot facility with a 1,700-square-foot garage.

Source:  http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com

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