Board gets glimpse of site plan
Whitehall Township Board of Commissioners got its first look at the proposed emergency services complex during a workshop meeting Oct. 1.
The nearly $18 million project would include a new 29,000-square-foot police station and renovation of the township building on the current MacArthur Road site.
The two buildings would be connected by a 1,200-square-foot lobby that would have separate entrances.
Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. said the project could have “shovel in ground” by spring 2020.
“This is the right property for a building that meets our needs,” Harakal said.
Whitehall Township Police Chief Michael Marks said the township had looked at nine properties over the last three years before returning to the existing site.
“This is a very exciting night for me,” Marks said. “This will be a building that is fiscally responsible and will bring a sense of pride to Whitehall Township.”
The municipal campus master plan was prepared by D’Huy Engineering, of Bethlehem, and KCBA Architects, of Hatfield.
The estimated cost of $17,735,000 includes $10,000,612 for the police building; $2,570,512 for renovation of the township building; $2,304,353 for site work; $1,909,523 for outbuildings; and a $950,000 contingency.
The township police department has been operating from a Lehigh Street building that originally was the home of the now-defunct HMS (Hokendauqua, Mickleys, Stiles) Ambulance Corps. The building, which has several levels, is not efficient and does not meet current safety standards.
Marks discussed many of the problems with the existing police building, including lack of storage space, problems with the HVAC system, wiring concerns, Internet and phone problems, leaks and flooding in the basement, inadequate backup generator and inefficient lockers.
He said male officers have to walk through the roll call area to get to the showers and there is not enough parking.
“During shift change, cars are circling the block like in New York City,” Marks said.
He also said the area where prisoners are brought into the building is not secure, creating a potentially unsafe situation.
The new building would have a sally port, a secure entryway that consists of a series of doors, for safe prisoner movements. The rear parking area would be secured with an electric fence and gate.
The two-story building will also have a large evidence room and records storage, more office space, a training room, a public meeting room, a gym and locker and shower areas.
The proposal is close to the estimate of 31,500 square feet that Marks said would be required to meet the department’s needs for the next 30 years.
He said, at that size, the facility could accommodate up to 70 police officers. The department currently has 48 officers.
“We need more space in anticipation of growth,” Marks said. “The growing trend in police work is regionalization and bringing back countywide police departments.”
Whitehall Township Deputy Mayor John Meyers said the existing township building needs to provide “better interaction between the public and the township” and have better “flow.”
“The last time this building was touched was when we had the fire in 2007,” Meyers said. “It was redesigned and reconstructed then out of necessity.”
Some of the specific problems with the building include multiple and confusing entrances, inefficient transaction windows, inadequate office space and a complicated floor plan.
The renovation would have the tax office, code enforcement office, recreation department, administration offices and restrooms connected to a community transaction area, where the public could easily access them.
The plan provides an option for the township building renovation to be done later, as a second phase.
Arif Fazil, of D’Huy Engineering, said the design phase would take about a year to get all the approvals.
“This is quite a project and really a team effort,” Fazil said. “I think this is a utilitarian and cost-effective solution.”
Jay Clough, of KCBA Architects, said the design is “tight” since there are some flood plains on the property on which there can’t be any buildings.
“We want to use every square foot now and in the future, to get maximum efficiency,” he said.
Clough said a “ring road” around the property with limited access would improve traffic flow.
Harakal noted the township is also looking into geothermal energy for the complex to be as efficient as possible.
The design team will meet again Oct. 11 to discuss the board’s comments.
“We are definitely behind the eight ball,” Commissioner Joseph Marx said. “I’m very conservative, but this is necessary, and it’s going to cost money. But I think it’s going to serve us well for a long, long time.”