Williamstown Celebrates New Police Station With Ribbon Cutting, Night Out Open House
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — For the longest time, Police Chief Kyle Johnson never thought he would see a day like Tuesday.
"Chief [Joseph] Zoito, Chief [Mike] Kennedy, Chief [Arthur] Parker, now I'm chief, and I'm thinking there's no way, it's not going to happen in my career," Johnson said of the town's need to move the Police Department out of its inadequate quarters in the converted fraternity house that is the Williamstown Municipal Building. "I'm going to walk out of the building at 31 North St. when I retire, and that's the way it's going to be.
"And here we are today. Our minds are literally blown. I still have officers coming up to me saying, 'How do I get to that room again?' Most of the people in here have seen the old building, and you know exactly what I'm saying."
Johnson made his remarks in the new station's meeting and training space, the kind of facility the old station could not begin to offer.
The occasion was a formal ribbon cutting for the station on Simonds Road that the police occupied last month.
Johnson was joined by Town Manager Jason Hoch, members of the construction team, two members of the town's select board, a representative from Williams College, state Rep. John Barrett III and state Sen. Adam Hinds to celebrate the creation of a facility that was long needed but relatively quickly delivered once the ball got rolling.
After several of the dignitaries, including Johnson, made their remarks in the training room in front of a camera from WilliNet, the town's community access television station, the festivities moved to the station's main entrance, where Hoch and Johnson did the honors of cutting the ribbon — actually, a length of yellow police caution tape.
Hoch talked about the work done to put the town on this track long before the Simonds Road site was on the market and the happy coincidence that put the property on the town's radar.
"Probably the best good fortune was a casual conversation I happened to have one day with a member of the Turner House board who said, 'Hey, we're looking to relocate, we're not quite sure what we're going to do with the building. Do you have any ideas?' " Hoch said.
Joined by Select Board member Andrew Hogeland, Hoch began evaluating the soon-to-be-closed veterans home on the town's north end, starting down a path that eventually saw the former Turner House doubled in size to accommodate a state-of-the-art police station.
Hogeland had served with another Select Board member, Jane Patton, on the town's ad hoc Public Safety Building Study Committee in 2014 and 2015.
"We benefited greatly from the work of the Public Safety Building Study Committee, which spent a number of years looking at options, building the case, really laying the groundwork to help us all understand that we needed a new police station," Hoch said. "For somebody coming in after the bulk of that work was done, I can't tell you how happy I was because … nobody asked me, 'Why do you need a new police station?' "
With the needs assessment and preliminary design elements considered by the study committee in hand, the town acquired the Turner House property in a special town meeting in fall 2017. Hoch started assembling a project team that eventually included the architect, Caolo Bieniek and Associates, the project manager, Architectural Consulting Group, and the general contractor, Salco of Pittsfield.
"We gave them the challenging task of: have you start work in January , completely design a building, get it out to bid and get numbers back so we can go to town meeting with real numbers the second week of May," Hoch said. "And they did it. And they came up with truly an incredible project."
On Tuesday evening, Hoch, Johnson and Officer Mike Ziemba showed off the project to the public at an open house held in conjunction with the National Night Out initiative. The department will offer a second open house on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
At the end of one guided tour Tuesday evening, Hoch was sure to thank any residents in attendance for the town's support of the project.
He helped pave the way for that support by financing the new station without adding a penny to the town's property tax rate, as was promised at the 2018 annual town meeting.
A big part of the financing strategy depended on the retirement of existing debt for the elementary school building project and budget savings from the solar installation on the capped landfill, a project that began under Hoch's predecessor, Peter Fohlin.
The police station project also received financial support from Williams College, in the form of a $400,000 donation, and the commonwealth, which gave the town a $250,000 housing choice grant, which was used to build the communications tower behind the station.
"That's based, in part, on the community's hard work over the years to make progress in the terms of enabling housing development in town," Hoch said. "The state recognizes that when you provide housing, it also means that communities need to be able to address the costs of the impact of that housing. So being able to have access to a capital grant that needed to be spent within one fiscal year, which we were ready to do, was an amazing opportunity for us."
Chris Kluchman, director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development's Housing Choice Program, said Williamstown was a strong candidate for the new grant program.
"We want to reward communities that are doing the right things for housing," Kluchman said. "And Williamstown is not just doing the right thing. You guys are knocking it out of the park.
"This was the first year of the grant program, so it was a very competitive program, and Williamstown's application rose to the top because of the best practices you guys have put in place with your planning department, your Planning Board, and the Board of Selectmen and voters at town meeting."
Barrett and Hinds each congratulated the town on its accomplishment and alluded to a wider need for such facilities throughout the area.
"I have to say, I've now been in most of the police stations around the county, and, honestly, the picture is not good," Hinds said. "Williamstown was not an exception. We have questions around accessibility, problems for the work spaces, mold issues in some instances, and the list goes on and on.
"It's so bad that I filed a bill that said: We have a funding source for schools. Why don't we have an established funding source for public safety buildings just because they are so critical and they're in such rough shape?"
Barrett, who grew up in Williamstown, said he remembers the days even before the "old" police station at Town Hall was established in 1966.
"They've been talking about building a new station here since Chief George Royal was here," Barrett said. "I think that was the late '40s or early '50s, and it continued right on through. … You know the old saying, 'It takes a village.' In Williamstown it took a village to get this done. That village was Williams College, which stepped to the forefront, the rank and file members of the Police Department to work so hard on it, prior town administrators, and Jason, you're the one who got it done. You should take great pride in that.
"I think this is a great day for Williamstown, and it also sets an example for other communities that we have to address it."
Johnson was appreciative of all those who helped make his dream come true.
"The department cannot be happier," he said. "We've always prided ourselves on the service we provide to the community. And we believe we can provide even better service now with the building the community has supported us to get."
The Williamstown Police Department will hold an open house at its new station on Saturday, Aug. 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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