WEST SPRINGFIELD — When it comes to locations for a new police station, “Everything is on the table,” said Town Councilor Anthony DiStefano, chair of the new Police Station Siting Committee.

The committee was formed in February as a response to the town’s difficulties in finding a new home for the Department of Public Works. The previous plan had been to move the DPW out of its current yard at 430 Westfield St., and build a new police station there. Both the new DPW yard and the current police station, which occupies part of Town Hall on Central Street, are considered cramped and outdated.

At the committee’s first meeting on March 6, Mayor William Reichelt said he’d like them to recommend three parcels. He would also like members of the committee to eventually host a forum with community members before moving forward. Within the year, he said, he’d like to have something he could use to move the project forward and secure funding for it.

West Springfield Police Chief Paul Connor says the men’s locker room, in the basement of Town Hall, has mold and water damage.
Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

Police Chief Paul Connor said the department was looking for between 3 and 5 acres of land. He also said it should be downtown or at a busy intersection, like those on Riverdale Street.

“To have it down, centrally located, I think West Springfield as a whole would prefer that,” he said.

The location will likely be where a new station can be built from scratch and where any existing structures can be demolished, DiStefano said later. He could not think of any buildings in town that could be renovated into a station.

One idea floated was to build a public safety complex combining police and fire, which Reichelt said could attract state grant funding. Committee member Don Chase said there may not be room downtown for that, but there could be parcels large enough on the town’s outskirts. DiStefano said if the Fire Department becomes involved, the committee would need to think about what to do with the fire substations.

“It potentially becomes a bigger discussion, not to say though that we shouldn’t be looking,” he said.

Following the meeting, committee members took a tour of the current police station  on the first, third, and basement floors of Town Hall, 26 Central St.

One thing Connor pointed out was the women’s locker room, which doubles as a storage area for records. There is not enough room for the nine female police officers the department currently employs. Meanwhile, the men’s locker room, in the basement, suffers from mold and water damage. No showers are located in either locker room, so officers can’t wash blood or other hazardous materials off them.

“This is unbelievable,” said DiStefano, looking around the room.

“[It] smells terrible,” added committee member Bridget Fiala, a former town councilor.

Connor took committee members to a “multi-purpose room” that’s used for roll call, report writing and breaks. Connor said he’d like to see those functions split into separate rooms, so officers writing reports can focus on their work and have a place to store law and policy reference books. The current “break room” consists of one microwave on a table.

He also noted the detainee cells, of which there are only two for women and one for juveniles. In cases of medical emergencies, West Springfield has to send its prisoners elsewhere. A decrepit bathroom by the cells is used by men in the department, while women have to exit the police station to use the bathrooms on the office side of Town Hall.

Connor also said he needs a new station to meet the standards of police accreditation agencies. He said a representative of one of those agencies gave West Springfield a failing grade after seeing the front counter. The counter was attached to the dispatch center, which Connor said is unsafely close to the entrance.

A new station would also bring new technology, help with recruitment and improve morale at the department, he said. The employees do hard work, he said, and should have better working conditions.

“They should have a place where they feel appreciated,” he said.

After the tour, DiStefano said the form the committee’s recommendations take will be decided in later meetings. He said he doesn’t see why they couldn’t submit their recommendations to the mayor by June 30, but is hesitant to set a deadline in case the members have differing opinions on the recommendations. Personally, he hopes to submit them before fall.

The 11-member committee consists of DiStefano, Chase, Connor, Fiala, councilors Brian Clune and Brian Griffin, police officers Nolan Ryan and Scott Manser, and citizen appointees Bruce Landon, Kathy Melvin and Thomas Melvin.

DiStefano said he had no idea of what a new station could cost. Design and construction of the station, he said, is not the responsibility of the committee.

He did say that the cost is “certainly enough that the town’s going to have to bond for it.”

Asked what will happen to the Police Department’s space in Town Hall, DiStefano said that, too, is beyond the scope of the committee. Connor said the previous plans had not gone that far yet, but he noted that the department’s garage might be useful for the town. Reichelt said in an email that no ideas have been floated yet for the space.

Reichelt said he is now prioritizing a new police station ahead of a potential new DPW yard. He had previously proposed moving the DPW to a business property on Piper Cross Road, only to have residential neighbors object. More recently, he asked to take church-owned property on Brush Hill Avenue by eminent domain, and build a new DPW yard there, but residents nearby objected to the loss of open space, truck traffic on their street, and potential disruption to the adjacent nun monastery. Reichelt said he is no longer pursuing an eminent domain action.

The Police Station Siting Committee is looking for community input. All meetings are public; the next one is at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, in the Mayor’s Meeting Room on the second floor of Town Hall. Residents can reach out to DiStefano at 413-519-2258 or adistefano@townofwestspringfield.org, or Reichelt at 413-263-3041 or mayor@tows.org.

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