Millsboro mulls police station relocation

Millsboro officials have put on hold a decision on plans for this town-owned property between Washington Street and Main Street to be the site for a new Town Hall facility. Several options are now under consideration for a police headquarters and Town Hall base. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO — Signs remain, but plans are not etched in stone.

A year ago, town leaders were giving serious consideration to a swap plan that would have the police department move into the Millsboro Town Center and the current police headquarters and adjacent town-owned land in the downtown district be the site for a new municipal Town Hall/civic facility.

That plan is on hold as town leaders and the police department weigh financial cost for any plan that would encompass Millsboro’s tremendous residential and commercial growth with a proactive eye on the town’s future.

“Obviously, this is a big project,” said Millsboro Police Chief Brian Calloway. “We’re looking at this, so we can make best use of our resources, but also to keep it in mind of our continued growth here. So we want to make sure that what we are doing is not putting a Band-Aid on this problem but looking long term to think about what Millsboro will look like in 30 years.”

At a special meeting Sept. 29, Millsboro Town Council unanimously agreed to place a $5 million spending cap on any upgrades to Town Hall and/or the police department.

“As of right now, council has set a budget of $5 million for both building projects, and I put the ‘both’ in quotation marks, because it could be because of that budget being fairly modest that we can only do one of the two projects,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson.

Two options top the list.

“One of those two options being what we talked about years ago, which was to put a new police station on the site that is currently marked as the possible or planned future home of new Millsboro Town Hall,” said Mr. Hudson.

“Option B is to take the current town center and make it a combined building with police and Town Hall with a possible addition to the building. Are there other options? I would say, technically, there still are, but those two seem to be the cream that has risen to the surface as of right now, based on that $5 million budget.”

The Millsboro Police Department is currently located at 307 Main St. between the Del. 24 split and not far from the downtown’s eastern edge. It is based in a former post office, having moved from the town center more than 20 years ago.

Chief Calloway recalls the police department moving to its current site in the late 1990s.

“The town police department originally was at Town Hall. They moved around 1997. When I came in in October of 1998, the building was still somewhat new. At that time, the building was really designed for 10 or 12 police officers — 12 being tops,” Chief Calloway said.

With 16 sworn officers, the police department now operates amid growing pains and space limitations.

“We have rooms in our building that are used for multiple reasons, whether it’s interviews, soft interviews, people in small spaces for offices. So certainly, at this point we have used just about every square inch of that building,” the chief said.

One major project over the years was a roof replacement. “We had major leaks at one time,” said Chief Calloway.

Other than that, many of the renovations were done in-house. “I have a great staff that I would say also has amateur skills in building,” Chief Calloway said.

Fluctuation and rising costs in construction factor into the town’s plans with a $5 million budget.

“That is the overall project budget,” said Mr. Hudson. “We also have a few million dollars in the fiscal year 2021 budget for these projects, as well. It is funded in the current year budget, but the project budget over multiple years is $5 million.”

Chief Calloway said that number may not be set in stone.

“That is a moving target. We are being told that building prices at this time are very inflated. So it is very difficult for us right now to get accurate numbers,” he said. “I have been actively going to multiple police departments that have been built within the last 10 years to get building costs and also to kind of talk to them about the process and learning from mistakes. We’re also learning from things they did the right way. We’ve had numbers that have been provided, and then, a year later, they have increased tremendously.”

According to Mr. Hudson, the hope is to have something up and running in possibly two to two-and-a-half years.

“This is group decision making, so that is kind of, I think, chief’s and my hope, but we’ll have to see how things unfold and how busy contractors are and things of that nature,” he added.

There are pros and cons to the options, he said.

“Certainly, there are advantages to each option. Certainly, having a police station downtown would help the town to revitalize that area. I think it would send a message to the commercial property owners, downtown landlords, tenants, just the investment … that the town is seriously about downtown revitalization,” said Mr. Hudson. “However, it has its challenges as far as access for the public and mobilization for the officers, that location does.”

Mr. Hudson said the combined option — police and Town Hall at the Wilson Highway spot — is “a good location for mobilization for access response times. It certainly would be nice to work alongside the police department. But the downside, of course, is that you don’t get that two birds with one stone of revitalizing the downtown.

“There is pros and cons to each,” Mr. Hudson said. “It’s becoming apparent to chief and I that the financial consideration will be primary here, and everyone will probably have to make some sacrifices.”