Planning is underway for converting an empty building at 1251 E. Sixth St. into a new station for the Sandwich Police Department.
The current station at 308 E. College St. has been crowded for years and is not suitable for expansion, so a new facility is needed, according to Police Chief Jim Bianchi.
Bianchi gave tours during an open house Friday, May 4, with several of his officers to show the vacant building in its present state along with an architects drawing of what it will look like when work is completed within the next year.
The building was originally the home of Designed Stairs Inc., a manufacturer of staircases. It was built in 2002 and has been vacant since 2009, when the company filed for bankruptcy as a result of the drop in the new home construction market.
When city officials learned in 2016 that the building was available, they visited it and immediately voted to purchase it.
Although vacant for several years, it had not been allowed to deteriorate, so the only work needed is to remodel it for police use, Bianchi said.
He said the city purchased the 14,000 square foot building along with an adjoining two acres of vacant land for $480,000.
Prior to this, the city had planned to build a new police station on part of the 28-acre site it owns on the Sandwich Fair grounds at a cost of $10 million.
Remodeling this 14,000-square-foot building will cost an estimated $8 million or $300 per square foot, compared with $400 per square foot for a new building on the fairgrounds site, Bianchi said. And this cost includes construction of a new 3,000-square-foot building for prisoner booking and holding, evidence retention and other uses on part of the additional 2-acre vacant land.
This new building will replace a 60-square-foot area in the present police station, Bianchi said.
As visitors came through, Bianchi showed them where the telephone, electric, and other wiring to the building had been brought into one room by the previous owners. He said they will be able to use the same conduit to install new wiring for their electric, communications and other needs.
“This saves us from the expense and work of having to tear up the floors. And the room is large enough to meet all the department’s needs for years,” he noted.
In the event of a power outage, a generator donated to the department by Northwestern Medicine Valley West Hospital in Sandwich will be able to provide more than enough power for the entire building, he said.
Bianchi noted that Sandwich is in parts of DeKalb, Kendall and LaSalle counties.
He said the plans include three rooms from which law enforcement officials from each of these counties can operate if necessary at some time.
“We can serve any department in the three counties for police, fire, federal agencies, and others who may need space for a major crime investigation or other use in these three rooms.
“We do not have space for any of this in the present building,” he said.
As Bianchi took visitors through the building he pointed to architects drawings in each room showing the entire layout for the building.
“We’re working on the documents now, getting ready to go to bid,” he said.
Bianchi, who has worked in law enforcement for 34 years, came to Sandwich from the Orland Park Police Department, which had more than 100 officers compared with 16 in Sandwich. He said he used this past experience in designing the renovation of the new building.
In addition to Orland Park, the design team visited Sycamore, Burr Ridge, and Morris police departments for ideas before they began design work on this building.
Many of the walls in this building are non-weight-bearing, so they can be removed without having to add support. This will allow them much more freedom in their design, he said.
A large amount of real wood was used in this building by the previous owner and all of it will be retained. He said the new design includes $90,000 for steel reinforcements that will allow retaining all the wood supports. The building also has a sprinkler system.
“This will be on of the most modern police facilities in the area,” he said.
Many of the new rooms will be multi-purpose to allow for growth.
Facilities will include male and female cells in lockup area, lockers for officers, an exercise room, firing range, evidence room, and other areas needed by the department.
He said the area for the records is large enough to last for the life of the building. The present room is so small, they have had to destroy some records after receiving permission from the state.
They now have an office for the chief, the investigators, community relations, records, and the dispatcher. Others have to share space with each other. In the new building, office space will be provided for everyone who needs it, he said.
Bianchi could not say when the remodeling will be done but expects it to be about one year after work starts.
He has applied for a $24,000 grant that would be used to upgrade all electronics, and to purchase new computers in the cars. And they are always trying to find new grants to apply for.
The department has 16 patrol officers, four sergeants and seven civilians. Because they operate on 12-hour work shifts, they do not need a lieutenant as most other departments have, he said.
The city hired Williams Architects of Itasca for the design work and Harbour Contractors of Plainfield for the construction.
Mayor Rick Olson said council members have not decided on how the renovation will be financed.
“Once we get the real numbers on the cost then we can decide. We have many options on how it will be paid for and for how long it will be financed,” Olson said.
When the move is complete, the present police building will be used by the city’s water department, which owns the building, the mayor said.