Dalton Police Station in Dire Condition Says Police Chief

Dalton Police Station in Dire Condition Says Police Chief

The Dalton Police Station is facing severe infrastructural issues, according to Police Chief Deanna Strout. During a recent Select Board meeting, Strout highlighted a range of urgent problems, including plumbing failures, mold, ventilation issues, rodent infestations, water damage, heating problems, and damaged cells.

The Select Board has decided to halt spending from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds until the next meeting. By then, Building and Grounds Superintendent Jeff Burch is expected to provide a clearer estimate of the repair costs. Additionally, the board has instructed Town Manager Thomas Hutcheson to draft a formal request for state funding to address these pressing issues.

The police station, located in the basement of Town Hall, was built in 1890 and currently houses 21 employees. Strout described the plumbing situation as dire, likening the use of the bathroom to a game of “Russian roulette” due to frequent toilet overflows. On April 17, raw sewage overflowed in the bathroom near dispatch, flooding the station and creating a horrific smell that employees had to endure.

Burch, who came in off-duty to clean the mess, described the situation as “disgusting” and “horrible.” Despite notifying the town’s insurance company and cutting out the affected drywall, the station now faces a rodent problem, with mice crawling out of the walls and leaving droppings everywhere. Pest control efforts have been unsuccessful in eradicating the infestation.

The plumbing issues are complex, with pipes taking unusual turns and potential pitch problems causing backups. The plumbing is buried under concrete, and street access to the sewer lines has been paved over, complicating any repair efforts. On May 9, during a shooting investigation, the toilet overflowed again, forcing officers to halt their work to address the plumbing emergency.

The station’s odor problem began in March, prompting Strout to call the state Department of Public Health (DPH) for an indoor air quality inspection. The DPH found that repeated blackwater accumulation between the wood flooring and basement cement floor had caused mold growth. The moisture measurements indicated that the flooring had been wet for over 11 days since the last flooding incident, and blackwater likely remains trapped between the layers.

The flooring, likely made of porous materials like plywood or particleboard, cannot be adequately cleaned if contaminated by blackwater, necessitating removal. The DPH also noted the lack of ventilation in the building and the boiler venting directly into the building without proper ventilation.

The last renovation in this section of Town Hall occurred in 1976, raising concerns about asbestos in the floor tiles. The DPH confirmed that the police station lacks a proper heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, with high CO2 levels detected in Strout’s office.

Burch has installed CO2 detectors and is exploring the installation of a heat-recovery or energy-recovery ventilation system to improve air quality and humidity levels. He has contacted a heating and plumbing company for pricing but has yet to meet with them.

Strout also pointed out other issues, including the station’s non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the inadequate size and condition of the cells. The cells lack plumbing, bed structures, and proper ventilation, posing safety risks for both officers and prisoners.

The department’s accreditation efforts are hindered by the building’s condition. The town will receive two reports: one on the sewage backup and another on general indoor air quality. Select Board member Joseph Diver emphasized the seriousness of the situation, noting potential health, union, and liability issues.

Diver questioned the contingency plan if the station becomes non-operational, suggesting that relocation might be necessary. Strout acknowledged the union’s patience but stressed the need for immediate and long-term solutions.

Board members agreed that the police station might need to be relocated. Chair Robert Bishop noted that short-term solutions are needed to stabilize the situation, while long-term plans must address the building’s overall condition. Relocating the station would be a complex process involving state requirements and infrastructure adjustments, including moving radio towers.

The town plans to form a building committee to develop long-term solutions, with the Select Board acting as the interim committee to expedite access to ARPA funds. Vice Chair Dan Esko mentioned that about $200,000 is available in ARPA funds, with more potentially becoming available as ongoing projects finish under budget.

A potential long-term solution could involve creating an emergency complex that combines police, fire, and ambulance services on one property. This would be a multi-year project requiring collaboration with various stakeholders.

Fire Chief Chris Tobin expressed willingness to collaborate on such a project in the future. Strout emphasized the need for someone with accreditation process knowledge if the town pursues this option.

The town is committed to addressing the police station’s dire condition, ensuring safe and functional working conditions for its employees.

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