Former Martin's grocery store eyed for Berkeley Co. Sheriff's Department

June 02, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council took the first steps Thursday to relocate the sheriff's Department's law-enforcement division to a vacant shopping plaza that the county purchased in 2007.

By a unanimous vote, the council reversed a surplus property order that had positioned the 5.5-acre plaza in the 500 block of South Raleigh Street to be sold at public auction.

A second unanimous vote Thursday authorized council President William L. "Bill" Stubblefield to sign a resolution to convert a City National Bank loan that was obtained to purchase the shopping plaza to a long-term building bond.

The resolution authorizes a maximum of $7 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds to be issued to renovate the former Martin's grocery store at 510 S. Raleigh St. for the sheriff's department, but County Administrator Deborah Hammond said "under no circumstances will this project come close to that number."

"We think we can do this within the budget restrictions of the county," said Stubblefield, who credited council members Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci and Doug Copenhaver for their leadership on an "ambitious plan."

Cost estimates were not released Thursday, but Deputy County Administrator Alan J. Davis told council members tha the sheriff's department might be able to move into the 35,791-square-foot Martin's building by late next year after renovations are complete.

The cost of renovating the grocery store into a public safety building and moving the sheriff's department from overcrowded offices at 802 Emmett Rousch Drive will be somewhat offset by a $500,000 allocation that the county put toward the purchase of 8.6 acres in the Tabler Station Business Park for an emergency operations center that had been proposed there, according to Petrucci.

That proposal, along with other options explored to find additional space for the sheriff's department, Central Dispatch and the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, never advanced for a number of reasons, said Davis.

Davis presented the renovation project on behalf of a special committee that was formed to resolve space needs for the three county emergency service agencies, which currently share 15,789 square feet of space at Emmett Rousch Drive.

County Engineer Kimberly J. Shrader said in an interview that the former grocery store building needs a new mechanical system and a new roof, but plans are to do as much work as possible "in house."

"We have gone over and taken a look at it to make sure it's possible to do this," Shrader said. "Structurally, it's very sound."

A site plan still must be submitted to the city of Martinsburg. Shrader said she plans to work with Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster Jr. to ensure his needs are met.

The relocation of the sheriff's department would free up space for the county's 911 emergency dispatch center, which has no room for expansion and has the most pressing space needs among the agencies, Davis said.

The 26 full-time staff for Berkeley County Central Dispatch/911 are "crammed" into little more than 1,115 feet of space at the county's Emmett Rousch Drive emergency services complex, Davis said.

"We have absolutely no room for additional work stations," Davis said.

Multiple sheriff's department employees are sharing work stations at the Emmett Rousch complex and have to retrieve files from storage facilities not connected to the building, Davis said.

The cost of renovations for Berkeley County Central Dispatch would be paid for with 911 fee revenue that supports the agency's emergency response coordination activities, according Petrucci.

Additional space for the emergency services agencies is "definitely needed," said Petrucci, noting that he felt the county is "headed in the right direction" with the project.

Lemaster did not return a message Thursday night.

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