The Williamstown, Massachusetts police department has moved into a new multimillion dollar station.
The new Williamstown Police Station at 825 Simonds Road – a mile and a half north of its former home in the town’s municipal offices – represents the realization of decades’ worth of dreams.
“Town hall has co-hosted the police station really since the late 1960s, and the space has always been cramped," said Town Manager Jason Hoch. "Definitely something that was sort of an afterthought, unsafe in many ways for our officers, our visitors, people we had to detain. So this has been on the town’s waiting list for a long time of projects to tackle.”
“There’s no comparison. We were in the back of a frat house – which is what town hall was before the town took it over," said Police Chief Kyle Johnson. "Now we’re in a building that was designed and built as a police station, and it’s state of the art. So it’s amazing – we’re still walking around in disbelief that this is really ours.”
The chief remembers rumblings inside the department about seeking a new home as far back as the 1980s. Johnson enumerated the old station’s shortcomings for WAMC, from its space for 12-full time officers …
“We had one room upstairs in the old place with two computers, and we had a sergeant’s office on the main floor right off dispatch with two computers, but it was clumsy at best.”
…to the basic amenities it could offer them and the department’s four dispatchers.
“There was no gym, no locker rooms. We had one bathroom that had a toilet and a sink. We had no kitchen. If somebody brought a meal in, they couldn’t wash their dish because the bathroom sink drain wouldn’t handle any kind of debris. So literally, we had hardly anything there.”
Now, in the new 12,000-foot station designed by Caolo & Bieniek Architects, the Williamstown police force has all that and more – including critical upgrades to its security. Evidence in the old station was held in a series of locked closets. Now, Johnson and his officers have a much more confidence-inspiring system of metal lockers installed in the wall of the main storage area.
“So now an officer comes along, shuts it, locks it, and it can’t be touched again until the evidence officer comes in on the other side and puts in permanent storage," said the chief. "It’s far more secure, efficient, streamlined – it’s just, again, state of the art.”
Another is the addition of a sally port – a secured entrance into the building that leads directly into booking.
“To not only be able to bring anybody we’re holding in in a safe way, but also to be able to separate that from the rest of the building, " said Hoch. "In the existing station, if your luck was running south, you could cross paths with somebody that was being brought into the station – also brought up half a flight of stairs or going down a flight of stairs. One room handled booking, it also handled working with people who were there to give victim statements, everything else, all in one space. Just really not a combination you want, those are not uses that should be blending.”
The new station is an expansion in every way. Its geographic position allows the department to improve its radio coverage, and its new training room can double as a space for community meetings as well as an emergency command center. It even has cells with heated ledges and toilets that are flushable from a button accessible from the outside.
Hoch says years of talk about the project came to a head after the town acquired what was then known as the Turner House – formerly a transitional housing space for veterans – in 2017.
“We looked at the building and realized that it was a good building, a good shell, that we could actually turn into about half of the police station," said the town manager. "And when we finally put the numbers together relative to all new construction, being able to re-use and renovate the Turner House saved us about a million and a half dollars.”
The final realization of the station combines the existing Turner House structure as well as a brand new one grafted on to it. Construction began in June 2018 and wrapped just over a year later.
The town manager estimates the final cost for the project at around $5.5 million.
“We had some money in hand," said Hoch. "We bonded for about $5 million. We received $400,000 as a gift from Williams College to put toward the capital cost, we received $250,000 from the state in a grant that we were able to use for a lot of the communication system upgrade.”
It isn’t lost on Hoch that Williamstown’s upgrade looms large in a county where other population centers like Pittsfield and North Adams have sought new public safety facilities of their own for years.
“These kind of buildings are really challenging to do for any community," Hoch told WAMC. "Prior to my service here in Williamstown, I served in a couple other communities. We were always trying to get a police station done, everybody had the need. We never made it happen. So for me, it’s been satisfying – I have a few unfulfilled projects in my own career – having that behind me.”