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Harlem's new Public Safety building open for tours

Posted: May 13, 2012 - 12:04am
Photo by Jim Blaylock Harlem mayor Bobby Culpepper sits in front of the new Department of Public Safety building which which will hold an open house on May 19-20.
Photo by Jim Blaylock Harlem mayor Bobby Culpepper sits in front of the new Department of Public Safety building which which will hold an open house on May 19-20.

After nearly a year of construction, Harlem officials are ready to unveil the city’s new public safety headquarters.

Two open houses next weekend will allow residents to tour the building that will soon house the Harlem Department of Public Safety.

“What we are doing is showing off the building,” Mayor Bobby Culpepper said. “The building in itself as a historic property is a big deal. If you just built a new building, that’s one thing. But converting the historic property, maintaining the integrity of it and so forth, that’s a big deal to us and to the community.”

Residents will be able to tour the $3 million facility from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday and from noon until 4 p.m. May20.

“We want to give them every opportunity to see the building,” Culpepper said. “This is the one and only time. ... Once we get (the Public Safety department) into the building, if you get (to the back) part of the building, you’re in trouble.”

Harlem officials recognized the department outgrew the current building more than a decade ago. Constructing a new one and moving the fire station away from the railroad tracks for safety reasons was part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

After watching and considering the building for about 10 years, city officials bought the property at 110 W. Milledgeville Street in late 2010, and began renovations in June.

Officials consider the property to hold historic value as it was operated as the Culpepper Ford dealership for about 50 years, starting in the 1940s. They opted to preserve as much of the building’s historic flavor as possible during renovations.

“It’s a great way to show the community what we envision Harlem being in the future: taking and restoring historic properties and making it better,” Culpepper said.

The brick facade remains and large windows replace former bay doors.

Glass blocks allow sunlight in over the main entrance, just like they did for more than 60 years.

“We wanted to preserve all of that,” Culpepper said, adding that bricks accenting the front courtyard were found inside during demolition and construction.

Chief David Sward, who took over the department in January, said the more than 11,000-square-foot facility will have plenty of room for the seven full-time and three part-time officers, four dispatchers and records clerk to work.

Records storage is a problem in the current building, with boxes stacked all over.

“It has a lot more room,” Sward said. “It has a lot of room for us to grow and do a lot better things to be more organized.”

A larger office and other spaces will give Sward room to comfortably meet with citizens.

“The biggest thing: We’ll be away from the railroad tracks,” Sward said. “So, we won’t have to stop talking amongst ourselves when the train goes by because the train is so loud.”

The building also features video surveillance cameras inside and out, security-controlled access, numerous offices, space for dispatchers, holding cells, an office for the municipal judge, and a new courtroom.

“That’s the real showpiece,” City Manager Jason Rizner said of the 80-person courtroom.

The courtroom features tiles similar to the original building, along with wood paneling, a judge’s bench, and audiovisual systems.

“All the wood here in this courtroom is oak and it is locally grown in Georgia,” Culpepper said.

Just outside the courtroom, which can serve as a multi-purpose room for city officials and the public safety or fire divisions, is a new addition to the historic building: a fire station.

The station replaces the one next to the tracks off Louisville Street. It includes two bunk rooms, bathrooms with showers, a kitchen and day room, and a five-truck bay.

“We hope to be in full operation mode in June,” Sward said, adding the move is dependent upon receipt and installation of all the needed dispatching equipment.

“We’ll get everybody moved in and settled in and start functioning as a Department of Public Safety as opposed to a police department and a fire department,” he said. “We’ll be in close proximity and be able to interact with each other more so than the set-up we have now.”

The new building also will be open for viewing during a Columbia County Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting on Tuesday and a VIP reception on Thursday.

The City Council will hold its May 21 monthly work session and meeting in the courtroom beginning at 6:30 p.m. The facility will also be open for tours after the meeting.

The fire department will hold a reception and flag- pole dedication on May 28.

“There’s a certain amount of pride that goes with a new facility,” Culpepper said. “All the employees, all the people take more pride in their job, they feel better about it.”

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