After 14 years of confining its police department in the bottom 4,300-square-foot corner of a two-story commercial building, the Town of Purcellville is finally making an active effort to find its officers a new interim home.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser, Town Manager David Mekarski, Town Attorney Sally Hankins and all six Town Council members Tuesday night convened in a special meeting at the Town Hall before recessing to visit the existing police headquarters and two sites the town is considering leasing for an interim police headquarters—7,300 square feet of space in the 46,600-square-foot Valley Medical Center building off Hirst Road, part of the space previously occupied by Corcoran Brewing Company; and the 13,500-square-foot building directly behind the former Shop ‘n Save that the Purcellville Children’s Academy formerly called home.
Police Chief Cynthia McAlister and Deputy Police Chief Dave Dailey also joined the tour group to provide insight on their department’s needs.
Before leaving the town hall to visit the sites, council members discussed whether the town could allow the public to tag along. With specific exception, open meetings laws in Virginia require the public be allowed access to town council meetings.
Mekarski said the public was not allowed to participate at that time because the owner of the medical center was uncomfortable with more people entering that portion of the building with it being under construction. Mekarski had also not yet asked the owner of the day care building if the public would be allowed in. He noted that the property owner informed the town that it could tour the building only 24 hours prior. “We had limited conversation with the property owner,” he said.
Fraser suggested that because “we pride ourselves on transparency,” the town should get the go-ahead from the property owners and advertise another meeting in the coming days in which the public would be allowed to participate in the tours.
Councilman Chris Bledsoe said that he was open to vising the sites Tuesday night or waiting to bring the public along another time, but because tax payers expect council members to be good stewards of their money, they should conduct the visits as planned to begin the process of finding a new and adequate interim police headquarters to serve town residents. “Let’s take care of the peoples’ business, let’s go forward,” he said.
The Town Council voted unanimously to recess the meeting and proceed with private site visits.
Hankins emphasized to council members that they should not discuss public business during the tours, in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
The council’s first visit to the existing police headquarters, which the town has leased from Lowers & Associates since 2005, lasted about 10 minutes and saw McAlister describing the station’s security flaws and immediate needs to council members.
Those flaws include a lobby space with limited protection for reception staff, a men’s locker room that is at capacity, an evidence processing area that lacks enough space to process large pieces of evidence, an easily-penetrable chief’s office and a non-soundproof interview room with no audio or video recording capabilities.
Members of the public were briefly allowed to enter the headquarters following McAlister’s presentation to council members.
Council members then walked across Hatcher Avenue to the Medical Center building at 105 Hirst Road to tour the first site, which was used by the Corcoran Brewing Company from spring 2014 through early 2018when it merged with B Chord Brewing near Round Hill.
McAlister said the only real downside to that location would be the parking situation, given that there are multiple other organizations operating out of the complex.
The final visit was to 205 N. Maple Avenue—the site that the Purcellville Children’s Academy operated out of from 2008 to September 2018 when it built and moved into a new location off Ken Culbert Jr. Road.
McAlister said her department might not need to rent all 13,000 square feet of space there, but said it was nice that the option is on the table. The nonprofit Joshua’s Hands conducts its quilting operations in a portion of the building now.
Once back at Town Hall, the Town Council went into a closed session with Mekarski, Hankins, McAlister and Dailey to discuss the site visits and weigh their options.
Following that closed-door meeting, the council voted 6-0-1, with Bledsoe having left early, to authorize Mekarski to extended the town’s lease at the current police headquarters for 12-18 months, and to issue a request for interest to solicit responses from property owners interested in leasing space—between 7,000- and 15,000-square-feet of it—for the town’s interim police headquarters for the next five or so years. Mekarski said he would put the advertisement out by next Tuesday.
McAlister said going about the search that way would allow the town to see if there’s a property it might be missing in its consideration. “I think it’s a good method to go and loop around and make sure we did our due diligence,” she said.
She mentioned that either the medical center or the day care building could work for her department’s needs and that wherever her officers end up, she would like to have a community room for residents to use for HOA meetings and other events.
For the time being, McAlister said she would need to rearrange the police station and purchase modular furniture to make room for new officers as they graduate from the police academy.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments,” she said. “There’s going to have to be some type of redesign inside.”
McAlister said the town in 2018 spent $107,000 on rent in the current police headquarters.
As for the town’s drive to build a permanent police headquarters, Mekarski in March proposed that the Town Council adopt a fiscal year 2020 budget that includes $1.2 million set aside for the initial phases of such a project. The Town Council is set to vote on next year’s budget on May 14.
McAlister said she expects construction on a new headquarters to take 4-5 years to complete and is hopeful work will begin some time next year.