The Petersburg borough Tuesday morning cut the ribbon and dedicated its newly renovated police station and municipal building. Major portions of the downtown structure, circa 1960, were gutted and rebuilt from the inside out over the past year. Several past employees were at the dedication and had some memories of working in the aging building.
A photo in the August 12 1960 edition of the Petersburg Press shows Tena Williams, daughter of a former mayor, cutting the ribbon to dedicate Petersburg’s municipal building. It was completed in July of that year by the Berg Construction Company, for 310-thousand dollars and housed city offices, the library, health center, police, fire and public works department. Nearly 57 years later, the building, with a new lease on life had another ribbon cutting- this time by Mayor Cindi Lagoudakis.
“Though the project remained our number one priority for several years, we were not attracting a significant enough outside investment to accomplish completion of the project,” Lagoudakis said. “As Petersburg often does, we looked to ourselves to move the remodeling project forward. The building you see today is the culmination of that effort.”
The work was funded by a combination of state grants, proceeds from the sale of some land and other money the municipality has set aside for the project. The construction cost around 6.6 million dollars, with the overall project price tag around 10 million dollars. Lagoudakis also noted the day was the one year anniversary of a vehicle accident that took the life of two young women who worked for the borough, Marie Giesbrecht and Molly Parks.
“Their love of Petersburg was evident in the activities they were involved in and the lives that they touched,” Lagoudakis said. “The organizations and endeavors in which they were involved, demonstrated a commitment to making this a better place to live now and for years to come. We as an assembly and a community embrace that spirit of personal action, quiet pride in who we are and investment in our future. We are dedicating this building to the people of this community and invite you to take a tour of your publicly-owned municipal building.”
These days, the building houses the borough’s administration and finance offices along with an expanded police station. The first phase of work was completed earlier this year. A second phase is newly finished. That includes a vehicle sally port, where police officers can unload a prisoner out of the weather. It’s the space that used to house the old police station and now it’s a cavernous garage. Inside it, borough manager Steve Giesbrecht said the borough has signed off on substantial completion of the work, although some punch list items remain to be finished by the contractor.
“It’s nice to see people,” he said of the turn-out Tuesday. “This is, you know, the people of Petersburg’s building. It took a joint effort from a lot of people to make this happen. Both at the legislative level and then locally as well. So, it’s really good to see it done and our police officers deserve a whole lot better than what they had and this is really, really nice for them.”
Before the work, the police station suffered from a settling foundation, separating walls and other problems. It was notorious among past employees who made do while the municipality pursued funding for renovation or new construction.
Among those attending were former police officers Heidi and Jim Agner, brought in by the borough for the event. Jim was police chief for three and a half years and the couple retired in 2013 after 19 years on the force. The Agners recalled a few of the low-lights from their time in the old station.
“Well lets see it could have been the rats coming up from the sewer, or Jim’s favorite, raw sewage going by his building, excuse me, his desk, ah the dispatchers having their legs in blankets because there was no heat in the room,” Heidi Agner listed. “So yeah I could go on, but I guess that’s probably enough, huh?
As for the new version of the building, Jim Agner called it “absolutely lovely.”
“There are so many new things to it that are, I don’t wanna say state of the art, but they’re absolutely where a police department should be and the better police departments in our state have,” he said. “The sally port may not see important to a lot of people but that is a huge officer safety and public safety, so often you have somebody that you’ve had to arrest and the weather is bad. The sally port there’s no ice. So you don’t have to worry about people falling. The sally port is something that’s really nice. And then again you go through and see the new jail facility. It’s up to code, which is nice.”
Another former member of the force Bruce Westre was a police captain and acting chief and was in the old building for 27 years. “It was an old building,” he said. “It really was an old building and you could see the changes as the year went by. And there had been several attempts to move in this direction to get a new building over the several decades. With this finally happening. It’s just really great, the sally port, the communications, the liability from the old building was just phenomenally high and this is just outstanding.”
Doc Lopez was a police dispatcher for 21 years. He remembers the sloping floors from the old building and the creative ways the municipality made temporary fixes to the police station problems. “The chief they built him a stage,” Lopez said, laughing. “He was starting to have back ache problems and then recognized that his chair was rolling forward. So they put a three-inch lift, three or four inch lift in span of around six feet and put his desk on it so he was sitting upright. And then everybody came in sit down in front of him was down below.”
The current day police force and dispatchers have settled into the new space and are still moving some items in since the end of construction. They gave tours to members of the public who showed up for a rare view inside jail cells, dispatch area and offices.