by Mike Knaak
Sartell police officers and firefighters are finding more space, new technology and a design for the future in their new home on Pinecone Road.
Not all the boxes have been unpacked and a few details need finishing, but both departments are now operating out of the new Public Safety Facility.
In addition to more space – the new police garage is about the same size as the old station and firefighters can now board their trucks without squeezing between the walls and vehicles – a number of new features improve citizens’ safety.
Before entering the building, visitors find two parking spaces labeled Safe Exchange Zone Parking. For people handing off a child to satisfy a custody agreement or two people wary of a transaction first set up online, the spaces offer a 24-hour-a-day safe place that’s well lit and under video surveillance. The zone is the only one in the state.
Just inside the front door, there’s a safe room where someone who feels threatened can seek refuge. After entering the safe room, the person can lock the door and pick up a phone for direct link to dispatch. Police Chief Jim Hughes said at the old station, people escaping a threatening situation would wait in a car in the parking lot until an officer arrived.
While the exterior doors leading to the safe room are always open, doors leading to the lobby are open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
The large lobby separates the police side of the building from the fire department spaces.
A squad room for officers anchors the police space with offices, a muster room, conference rooms and specially designed rooms for investigations and evidence processing around the side. The department’s mission statement covers one wall.
The police department includes 21 sworn officers, one community service officer, 2.5 clerical staff and 14 reserves.
To investigate the increasing number of internet and digital crimes, there’s a secure room with stand-alone computers to gather video, audio and phone-dump evidence for crimes such as child pornography.
Evidence handling also benefitted from a high-tech upgrade. Showing off the evidence room, Hughes pointed to an old metal storage cabinet, more suited to holding copier paper and other office supplies than crime-scene items. That’s all that remains of the equipment from the old station. New evidence lockers provide secure storage and a secure adjoining room is equipped with moving shelves and room to store evidence big and small.
Another new device dries wet or blood-stained evidence, such as clothing, while another unit is used for analyzing narcotics.
Near the garage, there’s a booking area with a separate entrance and three holding cells for handling people in custody such as DWI cases. In the old station, suspects would be placed in offices, each watched by an officer. The facility allows Sartell officers to book and release offenders without a trip to the Stearns County Jail in downtown St. Cloud.
Shared spaces such as a break room, large conference room and exercise room connect the police offices with the fire-department quarters.
The main conference room can seat up to 80 people for training and can also be divided into two smaller rooms. It can also be used as the emergency-operations center to direct major events. A smaller conference room off to the side provides space for commanders to communicate without the noise and distractions of the large room.
The departments also share a fitness room with weights and aerobic exercise equipment.
“Health and wellness is important to us,” Hughes said.
For firefighters, there’s a training tower with stairways that can be filled with smoke and water. Next to the large truck garage, each firefighter’s gear hangs in a locker, ready to go. A room with windows on three sides juts out from the east side of the building so fire commanders can direct responses via radio and computer as well as have a clear view of firefighters and trucks entering and leaving the building.
Firefighters were looking forward to celebrating the new building and the department’s 100th anniversary, but Covid-19 put those plans on hold for now.
Sartell residents hoping to tour the building will have to wait a little longer, but Hughes says there’s a video in the works that will give citizens a virtual tour.
Even with all these upgrades and improvements, the building is under budget. At the end of July, the project is $474,046 under the $13.12 million approved amount, but not all the bills are in yet.
Watch for more Public Safety Facility photos in the Sept. 18 edition.