A sprawling building that once housed rocket scientists and engineers on West Betteravia Road is undergoing a major transformation to become the new home of the Santa Maria Police Department.
Construction crews are busy inside and outside the facility at 1111 W. Betteravia Road, where Lockheed Martin Corp. employees once worked on modernizing equipment that monitors just-launched rockets.
Sporting a hard hat, safety glasses and a bright yellow vest along with his badge, police Cpl. Robert Prescott’s current beat is this unassuming, 70,000-square-foot building.
Prescott isn’t there because it’s a high crime area. Chief Ralph Martin assigned him to serve as the liaison between SMPD and construction crews building the law enforcement agency’s new headquarters.
“My job is to make sure this is going to be a usable facility when we move in,” Prescott told Noozhawk.
For instance, he noticed crews installing regular drywall in the prisoner holding area. Often, those arrested are not happy about it and they act out violently, which leads to damage, he pointed out.
“Every week there’s a new hole in the walls,” Prescott said of the holding area in the current police station.
At his suggestion and after approval through the channels, crews installed high-impact, high-density drywall that should be immune to the damage from an angry arrestee.
It’s an unusual assignment for a cop who spent years in the traffic division as a motorcycle officer.
“I’m a policeman, I’m not a construction worker,” Prescott said, a few minutes before he readily rattles off construction terms he’s picked up on the job since January. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned.”
The role is critical since police officers and support staff could move into the new facility within six months, according to some estimates. Dispatchers will follow a few months later.
Since this phase of the work began, workers completely gutted the interior.
Last week, crews were busy installing drywall and painting inside. Others were moving rebar into place at the rear of the building for the new sally port, a secure covered area to bring in those who have been arrested.
Santa Maria police have been housed in the current station at 222 E. Cook St. for more than 50 years, and have outgrown the available space.
At more than twice the size of the current facility, the new station will include much more room and amenities for SMPD staff.
Connected to the lobby, the report intake room in the new station will provide a private place where an officer can meet with someone who shows up to report a crime or discuss a concern. At the Cook Street site, those conversations often must occur in the public lobby.
Whether it’s the room where dispatchers will operate, the spot where police officers will train, the office for the employees keeping records or the area to house evidence, the new station is far more spacious.
In comparison, the new detective bureau will be about 10 times bigger than its current location. Likewise, the crime lab will have both workspace plus actual office space, again much larger than it currently uses.
The most frequent questions from Prescott’s colleagues center on basic matters. Will there be enough parking? Will the new station have an adequate number of wall lockers? His answer to both: Yes.
In the locker rooms, metal piping protruding from the wall — looking like elephant trunks, Prescott noted — eventually will contain electrical lines so officers can recharge critical equipment like flashlights.
Future security is a key concern today. While drop ceilings will be installed throughout the building, the property room to store evidence from crime cases will have high ceilings to ensure the items are secure.
Diani Building Corp. of Santa Maria is the prime contractor for this phase.
This is the project’s second phase, following the $2.9 million seismic retrofit project completed in December, City Manager Rick Haydon recently told the City Council. That effort included reinforcing the building’s roof structure and foundation.
The current phase’s cost is estimated at $10.3 million for modifying the building’s interior and should be completed by November or December.
The third phase, at $7.4 million, calls for the relocation of the dispatch center in early 2015. That includes radio system and technology upgrades.
“To put it in perspective — once we include the purchase price that we purchased the facility for back in 2008 — once we’re all said and done, it’s going to cost us roughly around $30 million to relocate the Police Department into that facility,” Haydon said.
By comparison, the Santa Barbara Police Department’s new station, at 48,000 square feet, reportedly will cost about $60 million to $65 million — “more than twice what ours is,” he said.