CYAN YELLOW MAGENTA BLACK
Union County Set to Move Ahead With $15 Million Renovation, Expansion of County Police Headquarters Located in Westfield
Courtesy of The Musial Group
NEW HOME FOR POLICE...Architects unveiled this architectural sketch for the expansion and upgrading of the Union County Police Headquarters on North Avenue in Westfield before the Board of Chosen Freeholders last Thursday. Under the plan, both the police and the county’s forensic lab will be expanded, along with an addition to provide shelter for the county’s emergency vehicles. By PAUL J. PEYTON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
ELIZABETH — County officials are moving ahead with a $15-million renovation and expansion project for the Union County Police Headquarters on North Avenue in Westfield.
A previous plan called for an entirely new communications building structure on the site.
That $20-million plan was set to go thorough in 1996, the last year Republicans had the majority on the nine-member Freeholder board. That project was defeated and set the stage for the current plan before a Democratically-controlled board.
County officials said they believe a brand new building would now be in the range of $25 million.
The new $15-million renovation and expansion proposal, which has to meet with the approval of the Westfield Planning Board, will include 11,000 square feet of additional space for the County Police as wellas 10,000additionalsquarefootage for the Union County Prosecutor Office’s forensic laboratory.
Additional space will come from the already relocated county voting machines among other changes.
UnionCountyisone ofonlyfourof the state’s 21 counties that has its own forensic a laboratory, according to First Assistant County Prosecutor James F. Keefe.
“The conditions we have right now (in the lab) are very difficult to work in,” said Mr. Keefe.
In terms of the county police area, County Manager Michael J. Lapolla added that, currently, there are 70 county officers working in 3,000 square feet of space.
“They are literally one on top of the other,” stated Harold Gibson, Director of Public Safety for the county.
He said there has been a big increase in the amount of heroin, hallucinogens and marijuana seized by police which must be tested by lab technicians.The waittohavesamples tested at a state laboratory can be as long as six months.
If all approvals are received, officials said construction is expected to begin sometime in February 2000, and be completed within 12 to 18 months. The county police operations will be relocated to either onsite trailers or another facility leased by the county during the construction phase of the project.
The forensic lab will be moved to the first floor until construction is
completed. In addition to a new facade and in keeping with the colonial look of Westfield, the property will be landscaped and include new brick fencing and curbing as well paving and
re-striping of the existing parking area.
Under the proposed plan, the police section of the building will be expanded from 8,520 to 19,190 square feet with the lab growing from 4,680 to 14,870 square feet and the communication area expanded by over 10,000 square feet to 14,870.
The radio communication area is for all the county vehicles and is currently housed in one of the existing garage areas at the North Avenue site.
“The intent (of the project) is to take the existing building and rehabilitate a usable and economical facility for the county forensic lab in the Prosecutor’s Office as well as the County Police,” said Noel S. Musial, President of The Musial Group in Mountainside, the architect for the project along.
The firm is working with the Joseph Jingoli & Son. Inc., a construction firm based in Lawrenceville.
A small addition to the left of the county police station (heading east towards Garwood) will be added for the purposes of providing an enclosed structure to house the county’s
emergency vehicles. The county administration building, which houses the office of the Union County Superintendent of Schools among other county offices and is located in the front of the property, is not included in the Veterans Join Forces to Voice
Opposition to Drug Abuse
On Tuesday, May 11, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders will welcome veterans groups, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and community leaders to kick-off the nation’s second “Veterans Against Drugs” program.
“Veterans Against Drugs” activities will take place in Linden, Elizabeth and Plainfield. The Eastern New Jersey Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America is coordinating the programwith UnionCountySheriffRalph Froehlichand theUnionCountyBoard of Chosen Freeholders.
Medal of Honor recipients, veterans groups, public officials and students will attend a public ceremony on May 11 at 10 a.m. at Linden City Halltowelcome theprogramtoUnion County.
Veterans will visit the schools and speakto studentsonTuesdaythrough Friday. Medal of Honor recipients will speak to children at schools in Linden, Elizabeth and Plainfield.
The Freeholder Board will also welcome veterans groups on May 11, with a reception at the County Administration building in Elizabeth at 6 p.m.
“Veterans Against Drugs” targets pupils in grades 7 through 9, and coordinates the activities of veterans with community groups to develop a long-term program to help young people steer clear of drugs.
Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) first implemented the “Veterans Against Drugs” program in Kern County, California in October 1998.
After its success there, VVA’s Eastern New Jersey chapter asked that Union County be designated as the second site for the program. Veterans reached out to Sheriff Froehlich and the Union County Freeholders to help implement the program in the schools.
The program works in two parts. In the first part of the program, “Commit to Life,” recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor come into the classrooms to speak to young people about their experiences. They then ask young people to “commit to life” and to take part in an educational program to help steer pupils away from drugs, gangs and violence.
Local businesses and community groups are asked to help support the program by offering their help as role models, and other types of rewards for completing the program.
In the second element of the program, “A Call to Action,” veterans work closely with community leaders and organizations. They issue a “call to action” to work together to combatthespread ofdrugsandcriminal activity.
The program will be held at Linden High School on Tuesday, May 11, at both Linden Middle Schools on May 12, at Plainfield High School on May 13 and will finish up at Elizabeth High School on May 14.
The Freeholder Board has committed staff support and coordination to help implement the program in Union County. project.
The county police will be located on the first and second floors of the redesigned building, with the forensic accessible by elevator on a separate area on the second floor.
Mr. Musial told the board that the police headquarters will also include additional space for the building’s holding cell for prisoners awaiting transfer to the county jail in Elizabeth.
The detective bureau will be located on the second floor along with the Police Chief’s office as well as a number of conference rooms.
Mr. Musial said the working space for the forensic lab is “totally inadequatetothe presentandfutureneeds” of the prosecutor’s office.
The building will feature a small tower at the main entrance to the building which will, in effect, be the dividing line between the existing building and the addition.
While concerned about the overall cost of the project, Freeholder Lewis Mingo, Jr. said he has had his “heart set on seeing something done over there (at the police headquarters).”
Freeholder Chairman Nicholas P. Scutari said the project is “something that is very important for us to move forward on.”
Meanwhile,FreeholderViceChairman Daniel P. Sullivan said the proposal will provide both the county and Westfield with a “much more attractive facility” than the current building, which he described as “one of the uglier buildings” the county owns.
He said once the project is completed the improved building will “enhance the area” since the building (as it stands now) “is just an old garage.”
Mr. Lapolla noted that part of the project is to alleviate the site of continued environmental problems due to the previous location of an underground oil tank that leaked over the
years,aswell asseveredrainageproblems in the existing parking lot.
“When it rains we lose about 20 or 25 parking spaces,” Mr. Lapolla revealed.
A half million dollars has been built into the project to clear up the
environmental problem. In other business, the board approved a resolution which paves the way for the county to acquire land in Elizabeth, owned by Olympia Trails Bus Company Inc., for the site of a new juvenile detention facility, at a cost of just under $1.9 million.
The current facility, housed over a parking garage in Elizabeth, has long been considered inadequate and, in fact, had been cited by authorities for a number of safety violations.
An additional $300,000 will be spent by the county to clean up environmental conditions on the site, a
cost that was factored into the negotiated sale price, according to the resolution. Once the sale goes through, Olympia intends to lease a
portion of the property at $12,500 a month for a year and $1,000 a day after that period until it vacates the site for good.
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Rail Safety Officials Discuss Efforts To Avert Tragedies on the Tracks By PAUL J. PEYTON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
WESTFIELD — Leaders for commuter and freight rail safety gathered Monday at the Westfield Municipal Building to discuss the issue just two months after 11 persons were killed in a train crash in Illinois.
During the conference, sponsored by SeventhDistrictCongressmanBob Franks, rail officials noted that most deaths could have been prevented hadpersons usedcommonsense,such as not driving around railroad grade crossing gates or walking on tracks.
Congressman Franks, Vice Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Ground Transportation Forum on Safety on Railroad Tracks, noted that 23 people were killed last year in New Jersey in accidents involving trains hitting pedestrians on the tracks.
Another five persons were killed in vehicles at grade crossings on New Jersey roadways, including an 81year-old woman just last Friday in Long Branch.
New Jersey has 2,200 railroad crossings,many ofthemalongheavily traveled highways,accordingtoCongressman Franks.
“For our children, in particular, railroad tracks have a special appeal. In many communities, you can find kids hanging out on the tracks. Even more disturbing is the problem of children crossing tracks by foot as a shortcut to get to and from school,” the Congressman said in a prepared statement.
Randy Dickerson of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) told theaudience thatgradecrossingsafety and trespass prevention are among the top priorities of the FRA.
He said “education, enforcement and engineering” are the keys to reducing rail tragedies.
In an effort to reduce what officials viewas avoidableaccidents,theFRA, in cooperation with the state Operation Lifesaver programs, offers grade crossing collision investigation coursesfor thelawenforcementcommunity.
One tool used by rail operators is photo enforcement. A video program in California reduced violations at grade crossings by some 90 percent. Mounted in enclosed, tamper-proof boxes, this equipment records dates, timesandlocation ofvehiclesatgrade crossings.
Federal legislation is in the works which would require the blowing of train horns at all grade crossings unless certain supplemental safety equipment is in place, possibly including photo identification equipment.
Stanley Rosenblum, Acting Executive Director for NJ Transit, said he is concerned that advertisers continue to glamorize walking on railroad tracks in the print and broadcast media.
“It’s an experience they (trespassers) are going to learn ultimately, that you will always lose if you are a trespasser,” he said.
Over the past year, 34,000 students in 93 schools in New Jersey have participatedin NJTransit’srailsafety school program.
Since 1983, the agency has taught more than 450,000 students “to be more safety conscious on or near the rail system.” In addition, other safety programs target school bus and truck drivers, emergency units and high school students.
NJ Transit trains run through 310 grade crossings. All are inspected once a month by the FRA.
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