WESTMINSTER >> A sigh of relief has come from many state troopers local to Windham County as they can finally do their work without obstacle or discomfort.
Troopers from the Rockingham and Brattleboro barracks have teamed up at one space in an advanced station, which includes updated technology, space availability, state-of-the-art dispatch and cruiser technologies. VSP began its operations out of the new Westminster barracks on July 21 and the station opened its doors to the media and public for a brief tour on Thursday, August 18.
"I like being able to have the two barracks working together, we finally get to work together; we're a team anyway, but we can work without bumping into each other and share one common facility," said the Westminster Barracks commander, Lieutenant Timothy Oliver. "Also, everything has been made modern for the civilians and troopers that work here. You have a much more comfortable work environment as opposed to what we were dealing with; that stuff was just old, outdated and ineffectual."
The decision to move and consolidate came after more than nine years of searching for the right site, planning, and negotiating a land deal before the state moved forward with construction. The plan goes back to 2007 when state officials began to look for alternate sites along the I-91 corridor and a location near Exit 5 was determined to be the most likely candidate for the new barracks.
The new barracks replaces two facilities that had aging infrastructure, maintenance and space challenges – issues which impacted public safety efforts in their communities. The $6.7 million new facility includes a Public Safety Answering Point that offers much more space and peace and quiet for dispatchers to complete their often busy job.
"I love the new space, it's easier to work-in, definitely serves the public better here," said emergency communicator Brian Johnson. "The biggest challenge at the other space was that the building was so old and we were on top of each other. Now you can see there's more open space. It was harder to hear people or the troopers when they called in. Now everything is very clear and there's not as much background noise or leaking roofs."
The PSAP administrator Tom Field said the former dispatch center at 1987 Rockingham Road had seven dispatchers in a space made for four.
"Rockingham had served it's purpose, it was kind of old and warn and not a very nice place to come in every day and sit for eight or 12 hours," said Field. "So having more space here, having less noise to try to combat when you're trying to hear what's on the other end of the phone call, and just having a brand new facility to work in is a morale booster as well."
Field noted the PSAP area has added a setup in the back of the room for additional call space in case another natural disaster such as Tropical Storm Irene were to occur in the state. Field is responsible for reviewing the employees, dealing with complaints from the public or any other service providers. He is also required to gather phone calls, or radio traffic for court subpoena for attorneys.
When visitors walk into the new barracks' front entrance they will be greeted by someone behind a glass window that will have to "buzz" them in for further entry. Upon entry, a spacious conference room is found to the right, which is open to the public at no cost. Oliver suggests this could be a place where Select Board meetings or other gatherings could be held.
Next is the PSAP room, then an interview room meant for troopers and perhaps suspects, which includes polygraph if necessary.
Further down the hall on the left is Oliver's office and other offices just a door or two down. Across the hall is a large conference roof where law enforcement may meet for internal matters. Just past the conference room is the "front entrance" for troopers, which leads them out to their secured parking spaces. In the old facility, troopers were parking in close proximity to the public's vehicles. The new station separates those by a secured fence that requires a code for access.
In addition there is a break/lunch room close by the "troop room," which includes desks for 30 troopers, each having their own designated space. This is a place where troopers may come in to print out paperwork, get updated on day-to-day operations, receive briefings from their patrol commander or to restock their cruiser where the bulk of their work is completed.
"The old space we probably had three chairs for 12 troopers, so if there was more than one working, they had to share a chair," said Oliver.
The troop room also includes a surveillance camera that shows a 360-degree view of the building as well as a shot inside the two holding cells. The cells have the ability to become "dry cells," allowing troopers to shut the water off if they suspect a person in the cell may try to flush some evidence.
Just outside the holding cell is the processing room, where prisoners can be handcuffed to a metal seat where a trooper may interview the individual in a "safe manner" according to Oliver. In the same space there is a fingerprint/photograph machine, a breath testing machine (the data master) for someone being processed with DUI, a phone for a lawyer, a copier and many other items.
Down the hall, outside of the processing room is a new evidence room and system. The archaic system called for handwritten evidence cards, but the new one includes barcode stations, where a barcode is created for each evidence item. The trooper then places the item of evidence in a pass-through cubby that goes from the hallway to the evidence room, where the evidence officer scans the barcode like someone would at the grocery store. Then the evidence officer decides where to place the item based on the trooper and the size of the object. Finally, that information is stored in a data system that can be retrieved at any time.
There is also a separate office room, including two desks for the Fish and Wildlife Department. Then on the same side of the hall is the detective bureau room. Then there is a common room that separates the detective space and the offices for six different sergeants.
"We had one room at the old barracks where we all got together and we had to share it and it was not always easy," said Oliver.
The building sits on 8 acres of property that includes a garage in the back of the station, which Oliver calls the "Garage Mahal." The space includes VSP's special team equipment, including a search and rescue truck, an all terrain vehicle and the search team van, which is used for major crimes.
The facility is located at 1330 Westminster Heights Road, Westminster, Vermont, just off Exit 5 of I-91.
This open house will be followed by a Vermont Department of Buildings and Grounds official ribbon-cutting on September 20 at 11 a.m. Gov. Peter Shumlin and Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn will celebrate the opening of the Westminster Barracks and speak of the facility's importance in serving the public safety mission for Vermonters.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275