After 111 years, crumbling Glassport police station showing its age

Borough council to vote this week to accept funding for construction of new facility

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Glassport became a borough in 1902. A year after that, its police station was built. The station's centennial is more than a decade in the past, and still, the same building is in use.

The community needs a new one, and badly.

"It was the priority," said Rosemary Bradley, a 71-year-old lifelong resident of the borough, who became its mayor in January.

Earlier this month, the board of the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County approved a $200,000 grant for Glassport to build a new police station, providing just less than half of what Ms. Bradley estimates will be a $438,000 project.

This week, Ms. Bradley expects the borough council to vote to accept the funding.

The mayor, council members, community supporters and Glassport's police officers would like to see the new station built as soon as possible.

"It's just way overdue," said John D'Angelo, president of the Glassport Development Corp.

Glassport is on the banks of the Monongahela River, covering just 1.52 square miles. Named after the Pittsburgh Glass Company, which was located in town, Glassport's history -- population boom fueled by industry then decline as industry left -- is a familiar one in the Mon Valley.

"It's a typical Rust Belt community," Mr. D'Angelo said.

A constant has been the police station.

The two-story, white brick building is attached to the municipal offices on Monongahela Drive. It's where Glassport's five full-time police officers and nine part-time officers report for duty, same as their predecessors did in 1903, when the daily salary of an officer was $2, according to Ms. Bradley. The building, in its 111th year, shows its age.

"People can't believe that this still exists," Lt. Ron Benoit said. The police chief, Howard Kifer, said the borough has been talking about getting a new building "for at least 20 years."

Bricks sometimes fall off the edifice, especially in the winter. There is no lobby area for visitors to sit and wait. Instead, a person who walks into the building comes face to face with the station's radio room, its command center. To walk through the building entails, at times, turning sideways to maneuver through tight spaces.

"In getting around this building, you've got to dodge around lockers and filing cabinets and everything under the sun just to get wherever you need to be," Lt. Benoit said.

Holding cells were once on the first and second floors of the building. Now, the second-floor cells have been converted to spaces for evidence and storage. The first floor has two cells, each with a porcelain toilet, just a few feet away and around a corner from the radio room.

The Glassport Police Department responded to 4,903 calls in 2013, for incidents ranging from domestic disputes to public intoxication to drug offenses. That same year, the department recorded 593 offenses, for crimes including burglary, larceny and vandalism.

No one is held for long in the cells, Sgt. Cliff LaFever said. The longest a person is held is usually 90 minutes, while officers process paperwork or wait to transfer the person to larger facilities in nearby McKeesport or to the Allegheny County Jail, he said.

Despite short holding times, the small facilities can create problems. If officers are discussing the case or the paperwork in the radio room, they are within easy earshot of the person being held.

"A lot of times, we have to put the TV set on, and play it a little loud, so they can't hear what you're discussing," Lt. Benoit said.

Last December, Sgt. LaFever had a case involving stolen weapons and multiple suspects. In order to interview them one at a time, without each hearing what the other was saying, he said he had to bring them into council chambers, a room in the building abutting the jail that is decorated with portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, intended for council meetings, not police questioning.

The small confines of the police station can cause problems, too, when dealing with juveniles, and when attempting to interview victims and people who could be charged, the officers said.

The new station planned for Glassport corrects many of the shortcomings. The plan is to build it on a five-acre plot of land behind the current station. It will be one-story and 2,100-square feet, Ms. Bradley said.

Among the features of the new building will be dedicated interview and evidence rooms and an armory, plus offices for investigations, the police chief and juvenile crimes. A lobby area will give visitors a place to wait.

There will be two or three new stainless steel cells for holding people who have been arrested in an area that is secured from the rest of the building. A separate entrance will allow officers to bring prisoners through a rear entrance, as opposed to now, when people must be brought through the radio room to get to a cell.

Sgt. LaFever said he expects some features of the new station, such as a locker room and better bathrooms for officers, will improve working conditions.

"A new station will definitely boost morale," he said. The plan for the current station is to tear it down.

More work remains before the borough can break ground. Ms. Bradley said she does not anticipate the need to raise taxes to finance the remainder of the costs that the county grant fails to cover, but that the community may take out a long-term loan. Ideally, construction will begin later this year, she said.

Although building a new police station is the borough's immediate goal, its ambitions go beyond that. The community is looking at improving its Main Street and bringing more people and business into the community.

"Hopefully this will be a start to improving Glassport," said Dave Kowalski, borough council president.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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