Vidalia considering new municipal complex

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2009

VIDALIA — Space is limited in Vidalia’s municipal buildings, and Mayor Hyram Copeland said Wednesday the city is considering building a new municipal complex.

The proposed complex, which will be built at an estimated cost of between $3.5 and $4 million, will encompass city hall and the police and fire departments.

The safety departments and municipal offices have expanded their current facilities as much as possible, and following damage caused by Hurricane Gustav city hall has become infested with black mold, Copeland said.

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“With the building we are in now, if we try to remodel that, we are still limited for space and the estimated cost for remodeling is $140 a square foot,” Copeland said. “We think we can do it for less than that.”

The police and fire departments already share a complex on John Dale Drive, but both Police Chief Ronnie G. “Tapper” Hendricks and Fire Chief Jack Langston said their departments don’t have enough room.

“This building was built in 1954, and at that time there was one man working at the fire station and two at the police station,” Langston said.

The two departments have improved and expanded their facilities through the years, but there’s no more room for expansion.

“We are maxed out here — we are crowded to the point that we have more people working here than we have room for,” Langston said.

The police department has had to grow to match the growth of Vidalia, Hendricks said.

“The problem is that building isn’t growing with them,” he said.

Currently, the fire department’s day area serves the triple duty of being a kitchen, front office and locker room, and the sleeping quarters are also crowded. The chiefs’ offices are in a 10-foot-by-30-foot trailer behind the station.

The police end of the building is “falling apart,” Hendricks said.

When he took over as police chief in July, Hendricks did some remodeling of the station, but the building had a problem that wasn’t detected at that time.

“The bug man came and sprayed last week, and (termites) were pouring out of the ceiling — it was hundreds of them,” Hendricks said.

The proposed complex will be able to house a ladder truck for the fire department, something the city needs to be able to keep its fire rating, Langston said.

“Right now we wouldn’t have anywhere to put it if somebody gave us one,” he said.

Likewise, Hendricks said the new police department would have more holding cells. While the parish jail holds adult offenders, the Vidalia police will house juvenile offenders for the juvenile court. They currently only have one cell.

Vidalia aldermen have separately met informally with Copeland to discuss the proposed project, and it will be discussed at the next city council meeting, Copeland said.

The funding for the project would come from existing taxes and grants, and the city will sell the old building, Copeland said.

“The interest rates are probably the lowest we have seen in years, and with the availability of monies with the stimulus funding and grants, now is the opportune time to do it,” Copeland said. “For us, it is a necessity because of the conditions of our present buildings.”

The proposed site for the new municipal complex is behind Kaiser’s truck stop, and Copeland said he hopes to see the city break ground on the project by mid-summer.