Elected officials say the project represents a generational leap over current conditions in its public safety buildings. It’s expected to be completed in one year.
By Matt Skoufalos | January 10, 2020
On a chilly January Thursday, Collingswood officials plunged shovels into the frozen ground, ceremonially kicking off construction of its new joint police and fire building.
Mayor Jim Maley described the $10-million project as “an improvement in our public safety operations for the next 100 years.
“This is a major shift taking us from the small-town, volunteer base into a 21st-century, professional, public safety operation,” Maley said.
The mayor recollected that in his early years of public service, he had known police officers who’d worked before the town had an ambulance service.
“When somebody was hurt, they would put them in the police car and drive them to the hospital,” he said—a maneuver that today is only reserved for the most urgent circumstances.
“Today there’s a lot more environmental concerns, infectious concerns, that take a lot of that public safety work to another level in order to protect the first responders,” Maley said.
The three-story, 28,000-square-foot building will be situated in the 400 block of Haddon Avenue, with a four-bay garage and main entrance facing the roadway. Fire department operations will occupy most of the first floor area closest to Haddon Avenue, with police operations in the rear of the building.
Its second floor will house a shared conference center/training room and fitness facility, firefighters’ quarters and executive offices, police lockers, a dining facility and rooftop terrace. The third story, which is set back from the first two, contains the police chief’s quarters, long-term record storage, and conference rooms.
The new building will address contemporary issues of working in public safety, offering separate bathrooms and locker rooms for its co-ed departments, facilities for the decontamination of equipment, and ADA-compliant accessibility. Additionally, it will give first responders the chance to work in conditions far superior to the structures in which their departments are housed currently.
“We’ve been blessed with departments that work well together,” the mayor said. “They work as one, and they’ve been working as one through this process designing the new headquarters.
“It’s a generational shift in our public safety operations,” he said.
Maley also said he was pleased with the level of community engagement that went into the visioning process.
A year-and-a-half of planning and revision generated neighborhood feedback that led to stormwater improvements for the surrounding blocks, adjustment of the building footprint to ease the impact on an apartment building next door, and the addition of a memorial garden dedicated to victims of domestic violence.
“There are people that would rather see it someplace else, but I think we’ve taken it and addressed, to a great degree, their concerns,” he said.
Collingswood Commissioner Rob Lewandowski said the new building will address deficiencies in the current police and fire buildings that the borough “couldn’t put a band-aid on.
“We’re creating a new station, but we’re improving conditions for things to succeed,” Lewandowski said.
The new building will give both departments the opportunity to expand their collaborations; “to share not just a mission but the physical space to execute that mission,” he said.
“This is going to serve our children’s children,” Lewandowski said. “When all is said and done, it’s going to meet LEED standards for energy sustainability. Its high-efficiency HVAC systems and green roof will help with operating costs and stewardship of the environment.”
Lewandowski also said that the extensive visioning process allowed borough residents to offer feedback that “made it a better building.
“I just have a great appreciation for all the residents who came out to listen to our plans and weigh in with their thoughts, their ideas, their concerns,” Lewandowski said. “It’s a good thing to know that the building that we’re going to see, the facility that’s going to serve our town, was essentially built by our town.”
Collingswood Police Chief Kevin Carey said the groundbreaking was a heartwarming event on a cold day. He’s looking forward to the opportunities of a new, modern, shared space with his colleagues in the borough fire department, as well as with the officers in his department.
“Allowing us to have a new place to come to work really allows the tools and the space for us to operate better,” Carey said.
“We do a lot with the fire department now, but to share a building with them, it’s going to be even better.
“We’re going to have the space to train together; to work side by side,” he said.
“I think it means a lot to be able to walk downstairs and talk to the fire guys.”
Carey said the tighter integration would help in at least a few specific circumstances, including shared training for both departments, as well as the opportunity to host law enforcement classes, which could lower the costs for Collingswood first responders to attend.
“Right now, it’s an embarrassment to host any kind of training,” he said. “I don’t have the space to do it; I’m embarrassed to have people in the building.”
The administration building also will enable police and fire department heads to coordinate during emergency events, whether with each other or outside agencies. It will also offer an opportunity for communal grieving and counseling in the wake of tragedies, Carey said.
“Right now in separate spaces, we do separate things with our chaplains,” he said. “I think it would mean more if we can have a space to do that together. A traumatic event is a traumatic event.”
Most of all, Carey said the new building represents a community commitment to the first responders that serve them, while offering an opportunity for police to deepen their relationships with members of the public.
“The men and women deserve a building that reflects the service that they provide,” the chief said.
“I think they deserve this because of the hard work they do, but this is going to give us more community exposure too,” he said. “We’re going to be intertwined into a neighborhood, and the space is going to allow for more community programming, which then opens up the police-community relations.”
Collingswood Fire Chief Keith Davis said the new facilities will support community connections with the fire department as well, including tours for schoolchildren and events like Fire Prevention Week and National Night Out. There’s also a planned time capsule to which Collingswood children will be invited to contribute artifacts for future generations to discover.
Most of all, Davis said the building will make “a world of difference” in daily operations and quality of life for professional firefighters and volunteers alike.
“Our current facility really wasn’t designed to house career staff,” Davis said.
“[We’ll be] able to decontaminate our equipment after incidents, have space to do paperwork and conduct the business, and a place that we’d be proud to have the community come into.”
Davis also pointed to the turnout among the borough fire department at Thursday’s event as evidence of their enthusiasm for the new digs.
“Every single full-time, part-time, and most of the retired staff showed up today for the groundbreaking,” he said.
“I think they’re pretty excited. They’re definitely all-in for this project.”
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