Finding room for growth

Southside fire and police departments look into renovating or building new stations

By Nicole Davis

There appears to be a new trend on the Southside – police and fire departments in need of new buildings to house their growing demand. Some, like Southport and Greenwood Police Departments, are preparing to build and renovate while others, like Beech Grove Police and Fire Departments, are looking into what they are able to do about the lack of adequate space. Here, learn about some of those needs and what they’re doing about it:

Beech Grove Fire Department

Gear is stored in the apparatus bay.

Beech Grove Fire Department currently operates out of two stations: 330 E. Churchman Ave., and 1202 Albany St. The Churchman station, Station 57, was built in 1970 for a staff of three to four people. Now, there are a minimum of seven people per shift. The Albany station, Station 56, has a similar story.

“We have outgrown the space provided that we need for daily operations,” said Beech Grove Fire Chief Rob Cheshire. “Currently we run a medic, an engine and a battalion (vehicle) out of this station (Churchman). We don’t have a gear washer or proper facilities for storage. There’s a huge risk of toxic exposures from our gear which are known to cause cancer, and we do not have proper storage for our gear. Overall, the kitchen area is small for that amount of people. It’s a residential kitchen. The workout facility is in the apparatus bay, with the fumes.”

The station was also not designed for the amount of female employees it has today. There isn’t a separate bunk room or changing area. There could be three or four females per shift. The biggest challenge is that they all have to share one restroom.

“That is also the public bathroom,” said Courtney Henderson, paramedic. “Like has happened to me three times, if we are exposed to bedbugs, we have to stand in line just to get a shower, just to (decontaminate). We don’t have anywhere to put our toiletries. It’s not ideal. We don’t expect it to be the comforts of home, but it’s necessary to have space and plenty of bathrooms for our women employees here at Beech Grove. We’re growing. We still need about three more firefighters. Those could be women. We are here 24-hour shifts. We change  our uniforms at least two times a day. We shower two, three times a day. We have to have adequate bathroom facilities for all of our personnel.”

The Albany station is also out of space, but is facing more structural issues. It needs a new roof and concrete problems that need to be addressed.

The fire department is having a needs assessment done, with the information to be released in October. Cheshire said they are looking into combining the two stations into one, centralized location to house all of the same staff. The department would keep the Churchman station for ambulance services.

“The Beech Grove Fire Department will be able to run a national model for fire operations,” Cheshire said. “I think what we’re proposing is very beneficial to the community.

It will be a long-term goal. The long-term goal of our fire department to be self sustained. A lot of the change with the station is to ensure the living facilities are up to standard and building code for gear, equipment, storage and maintenance.”

Beech Grove Police Department

Beech Grove Police Department’s offices are also used for storage.

The Beech Grove Police Department has been looking into a new building for years. The station which was built in the early 1970s is busting at the seams.

“We’re out of storage space,” said Deputy Chief Michael Maurice. “We don’t have up-to-date surveillance and interview equipment that can easily be shared with the prosecutor’s office. Our system doesn’t match theirs. This building was wired for all the technology we have now. We have cables laying around. We have out-of-date heating and cooling. There’s no meeting space and nowhere to go. We’ve just grown. The building doesn’t provide public safety. We have mold in the  basement. The basement floods. Occasionally the women’s restroom backs up because of the septic. We require officers to take a fitness assessment every two years. Our workout area is in the hallway downstairs. There’s no room to use it.”

The police department is meeting with a company about the feasibility of updating the current building or building a new one, but Maurice said he feels they’re all out of options as far as renovation.

“We’ve taken steps here,” Maurice said. “We put a fence around the building. Once the IMPD North District started getting shot at, we put bulletproof glass in here. But there’s only so much money you want to pour into the building.”

Workout equipment is kept for Beech Grove officers to use in the hallway of the basement.

The police department is up to 32 officers, and is looking to hire three more. From January to June of this year, the department had 11,547 police responses, up 3.7 percent from the same period in 2016. Of those responses, they made 617 criminal arrests, up 47.6 percent from last year. Incident reports and hotel runs are up, while apartment runs are down.

“The guys are busy,” Maurice said. “I don’t see it slowing down.”

The department spoke with the city council at the August meeting about the needs. Many of the councilors took a tour of the building and voiced agreement.

“For the city to move forward the way it wants to, it will have to have a five year and ten year, 15 year plan. This should be part of that plan. We don’t have to have a new building tomorrow. But if they’re serious about public safety, there has to be a plan, not just for public safety but for the entire city. There’s got to be a creative way to fund it.”

Southport Police Department

When Southport Police Chief Thomas Vaughn took the chief position in 2014, there were two things he was told he’d never achieve: getting a full-time officer and a new police station. The full-time officer was officially hired at the beginning of 2017, and a public groundbreaking is expected for a municipal complex, with a new police station, at the end of September.

Currently, the Southport Police Department is located at 6901 Derbyshire Rd. in a room in the same building as the offices of government officials, Perry Seniors and the Community Center. Chief Vaughn’s office is an 8 by 10-foot space, which also contains filing cabinets used for storage.

“The roll call room is utilized by other agencies, for breathalyzers, fingerprints, people pick up police reports,” Vaughn said. “There are so many things that the room is used for in addition to being a roll call room. You’ll have someone doing a breathalyzer on a drunk, with someone getting their fingerprints for their government job and then a child sitting at a desk coloring in a coloring book. In today’s society, those things are not acceptable.”

With the help of Clerk/Treasurer Diana Bossingham, Vaughn began looking into options for a new police station. They knew the city still owned the land at 137 Worman St., but wasn’t sure if that would be big enough. For the past year, the city and police department have worked to construct plans, obtain funding and find a developer for the project. Greg Martz, GM Development Group, will develop the project.

The initial idea was for the new building to be only for the police station, but that evolved. The building will now home government official’s offices and a meeting room for the city council.

“We started talking about security in this building,” Vaughn said. “There is no way for us to secure them the way an elected official should be secured when they’re at work.”

The council approved the $1,003,000 project, funded by a bond that kicked in after a previous bond expired, after hosting public meetings where support was voiced from area residents.

The new 8,000 square-foot building will include secure entryways. The front door will always be unlocked with a safe room for those in trouble to contact the police. Guests will sign in and officers will take them back to the government offices.

Police officers will drive into their own area. There will be a room for breathalyzers, a room for interviews, a fireproof storage room for crucial  city documents that are currently stored in the treasurer’s office.

The right side of the building will include meeting space and a training center for the Southport Police Academy. The police academy was certified by the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy for Tier 2 training, but with the lack of space they’ve had to rent classrooms and training facilities. The academy trains not only Southport reserve officers, but for other local small agencies as well.

“The community does support the police department and I think it would be great to hold the training inside the city so they can watch the officers running down the street,” Vaughn said. “They can see them training. The officers will feel part of the community.”

The current community center will not be abandoned. Perry Seniors will have more space to operate and space has been offered for the Lions Club of Southport to meet. The community center can still be rented out for events.

“In about 5 years, I don’t think people will even recognize the city because of all the growth and new projects,” Vaughn said. “It’s pretty exciting. The park renovation (will be) done, the new building will be done done. We won’t have the abandoned buildings here.”

The deadline to complete the project is June 30, 2018, but Bossingham said if weather cooperates, it could get done sooner.