New Millsboro police headquarters moves ahead

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MILLSBORO — A procedural decision has been made on the future home for the Millsboro Police Department.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the town of Millsboro’s mayor and council approved moving forward with its police headquarters project on town-owned property at Ellis and Railroad streets, several blocks from the Millsboro Town Center.

The base portion for the 8,250-square-foot facility — nearly double the size of the current police station on Main Street — is projected to be slightly over $5 million.

Possible station additions — as presented by Michael Wigley, an architect with Davis, Bowen & Friedel Inc. — include:

• A covered, partially enclosed walkway entrance ($160,180).

• A training center attached to the walkway that would be available for community use, including an outdoor space, such as a basketball court ($876,980).

• A sallyport or secure/controlled entryway attached to the rear of the building ($474,280).

• A fitness center attached to the building.

Council decided to incorporate in the base project a bump-out expansion of six more lockers (four for men, two for women) as an addition to the 20-locker area (16 for men, four for women) proposed in the original design plan. The additional lockers were given as an alternate option, at $102,330.

“Just that little bump-out, that would extend the life of the building,” said Millsboro Police Chief Brian Calloway. “My hope is to continue to have staffing levels of at least 17. And certainly, that is going to continue to grow as our town grows. Infrastructure is not just buildings. It’s people to operate the building and to be able to go to their calls for service.”

Chief Calloway said some things to consider are how the building would operate after-hours and its use by other law enforcement. “Multiple agencies use our department. Our police department is (a) hub for Delaware State Police,” Chief Calloway said.

The sallyport was pegged as high-priority if the town decides to move forward with any alternate options. Council also mulled possible sources of outside revenue, including state bond bill funding for the unattached training center, as well as fundraising initiatives.

Department has outgrown facility

Located on the far eastern side of town, the current police station at 307 Main St. opened in 1997. Over time, the police force has grown — 17 sworn officers are allotted in the current fiscal budget — and space is now cramped.

This month, the department welcomed its two newest officers, who graduated from the police academy.

“Right now, we’ll be at 16. We’re allotted 17,” Chief Calloway said. “So I have two more going through in the next graduation class that is scheduled to start in April. The reason why I have two is I have one that is retiring in June. I am also planning for another retirement the following year.”

Geographically, the Ellis Street/Railroad Street location is more centrally located, with closer access to U.S. 113, the roadway artery that divides the eastern and western portions of town.

At a special meeting Sept. 29, Millsboro Town Council unanimously agreed to place a $5 million spending cap on the project. That included an additional half-million-dollar increase from the initial $4.5 million target.

While the decision was unanimous to move forward this week, several council members voiced concern about exceeding the spending limit.

“I figured we could come in and look at something for $5 million. Instead, I’m coming in here, never seeing the basic building by itself yet, but I am seeing another $1.7 million in additions,” said Councilman Larry Gum. “We’re representing the taxpayers. The money has to come from someplace. Now, instead of $4.5 million, we’re already up to $6.7 million. I’m frustrated because I am not seeing what we asked for. There is just a lot of things in here that I’m concerned about because we’ve got to pay for it. We’ve got to find the money.

“That’s the worst-case scenario I can give you on how I feel about it, but I will go along with whatever everybody else feels,” Councilman Gum said.

Councilman and Vice Mayor Tim Hodges said the town should keep the $5 million cap for now.

“I think the way to move forward is keep our budget at $5 million and adjust the locker space — it might save a few dollars — and move forward with the project,” he said. “Because we really don’t know how accurate these numbers are that we are talking about tonight. (Mr. Wigley) still has a lot of work to do.

“Larry is exactly right,” said Councilman Hodges. “We started out with a budget of $4.5 million. We added $500,000. As much I would like to see it all in there — all the alternates — right now, the fact is we just don’t have the money.”

Councilman Ron O’Neal agreed.

“I like the design of the building. It looks like it has got the credential that if we needed to add on, we could add on,” he said. “I see Larry and Tim’s point of view, as well. We’ve got a lot of things going on. I’d hate to see us rob from Peter to pay Paul. Nothing against the chief and the police department here, but I think we need to be very careful.”

The police chief also expressed the need for caution.

“Councilman Hodges and Councilman Gum, I certainly understand your concern. It’s my concern, as well,” said Chief Calloway. “And that’s why we did this. We did this to look at what we can have and add on. The concern I have is I think about what Millsboro looked like when I started and where is it now? When I first started in that building (current police headquarters), we never thought we’d outgrow it. Now, where are we?”

Plan will include additions

At Councilman Hodges’ suggestion, all alternates were included in council’s decision, supported by a unanimous 7-0 vote.

“Why not go ahead and include the other alternates, so we know the price?” Councilman Hodges said.

“I’d be glad to do that,” Mr. Wigley said. “Naturally, it would be more fee for us. You’d have it all designed.”

Millsboro’s Town Manager Sheldon Hudson said he prefers to keep options available.

“Not only that, what if something big happens in the market and causes the prices to drop? It doesn’t hurt,” he said. “And really, that way, all doors are technically still open, for now.”

Millsboro Mayor Michelle Truitt reminded council that the police station project has been in the works for several years.

“We’ve put it off now for how many years?” said Mayor Truitt, who suggested that the town consider pursuing other funding sources, augmenting town finances.

“Is it worth delaying the construction of the building to go look for additional funding? And I think the obvious answer is no,” said Councilman Hodges.

Mayor Truitt said the proposed training room would be an excellent community-service type of project, perhaps one for which the town could ask its elected state officials to seek bond bill funding. “That would help get our cost down,” she said.

Mr. Hudson said he contacted Matt Revel, community relations liaison for state Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, and Mr. Revel said the “project would be a good candidate for bond bill money, as the mayor said. But it could be a combination.”

It was noted that any project tied to bond bill money would trigger the Davis-Bacon Act, which directs the Department of Labor to determine such locally prevailing-wage rates, which typically are substantially higher.

“I think with bond bill money that it is subject to Davis-Bacon and union wages,” Mr. Hudson said. “So the advantage of council requesting bond bill funding for the community portion, the training room, can be its own project, so you don’t run into having to pay Davis-Bacon on the whole project. That is my understanding.”

New station a longtime debate

Discussion about a new police headquarters has been an ongoing topic since 2017.

One option given earlier serious consideration was a swap plan, in which the police department would move into the Millsboro Town Center, and the current police headquarters and adjacent town-owned land in the downtown district would become the location for a new municipal Town Hall/civic facility.

Mr. Wigley expects preliminary design schemes to be ready for council’s review in several months. He added that there are still a lot of “details to design specifics.”

“The chief and his team really did an excellent job of going through and trying the best they could to come up with a functional building in the 8,250-square-foot range,” he said.

Chief Calloway agreed.

“At the end of the day, what we have here was going to be functional,” he said. Town officials are hoping the project can be completed in two years.

“My main concern as town manager, and I think I speak for Chief, as well, is just making sure we don’t get into a situation where the building is — and I don’t want to say even above capacity — but near or approaching capacity once it’s opened. We want to make sure there is some growth built into the structure, some room for growth,” Mr. Hudson said. “I think there was good discussion. I think everybody was candid but respectful. Even though there is obviously a little bit of a difference of opinion, I think everybody’s heart is in the right place.

“I think to the extent we can do that and stay as close to $5 million as possible, then that is a good compromise,” he added.