December 25. 2012 9:56PM

Manchester police force's new home has twice the space, room to grow

New Hampshire Union Leader

Manchester's new police station on Valley Street is shown. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
MANCHESTER -- The phone number will be the same - 668-8711 - but that's about all when the Manchester Police Department moves into its new home at 405 Valley St.

The move begins Thursday, Jan. 3, when patrol, dispatch and booking will be working at the Valley Street site, with traffic and records still based at the 351 Chestnut St. site. On Friday, the records office will close at noon on Chestnut Street and reopen Monday morning at the Valley Street address, along with all other department operations.

Manchester Police Chief David Mara said the careful planning for the new building should ensure it will meet the department's space needs for the next 30 years.

There are extra lockers in the men's and women's locker rooms, a total of 265 for male and 39 for female officers, as well as more desks than are currently needed in several divisions and more cells than are needed on a daily basis.

"There's room for growth here," said Mara, who is convinced it will come, although he notes he won't be overseeing it.

Mara said the architects, Lavallee Brengsinger, brought in Ian Reeves at Architects Design Group in Orlando, Fla., an expert in the design of law enforcement and public safety complexes to assist. Capt. Fred Roach has been overseeing the project and is the real expert on it, said Mara.

Mara did homework of his own, talking with the Cambridge, Mass., chief when his department was planning and building a new police station in a renovated office building. After the project was completed, Mara said: "I went back." This time, he wanted to know what the chief would have done differently.

Mara doesn't expect to have second thoughts about this building.

He's proud to show off items as simple as covered parking for patrol cars that are out on the road almost continuously, indoor kennels for the canine half of the K-9 teams, private rooms for interviewing domestic violence victims, and lots of meeting/conference/training rooms throughout the three-story structure, things sorely missed in the Chestnut Street building.

He is very happy about the sizable room off the first floor lobby. "We wanted a place where we could host the public," said Mara, adding it can also be used for training and promotion ceremonies.

When it came to allocating space, Mara opted for a modestly sized third-floor corner office, preferring to use more of the floor space for a meeting/training room and outer office.

He's proud of his officers and he wants the best for them so they can be well trained and supported. "It will enhance public safety," he said.

As he conducted a tour of the three-story building, which has about 72,000 square feet of usable space, double the Chestnut Street space, he explained the use of each area and how it will improve the working conditions for his officers, which he says will work to the advantage of the public.

The new shooting range, with lights above the entrance and the trap area that indicate if the range is in use, is 25 yards long and 10 lanes wide. There's also a moving target and equipment to permit practice under conditions of darkness, flashing lights and other complications. "We can do all kinds of training," he said. "We can set up various scenarios."

One of Mara's pet projects is the new gym. He said he will be keeping a close eye on the placement of the equipment, noting officers hired after a certain time must pass regular fitness tests.

Because officers are increasingly faced by people who use mixed matial arts, there is a room, with mats lining the walls, for specialized self-defense training.

There is a room, or multiple rooms, for just about everything a police chief could want.

There's a special locker room for the 30 members of the SWAT unit, with oversize lockers for the special equipment they use. There is a room for fingerprinting and a room for breath testing for alcohol use.

A large glass sided dryer will dry items so they can be processed for evidence. "Now we use a fish tank," he said.

There is a room just for cleaning weapons.

There are multiple evidence rooms. There is a special room for storage of evidence related to homicides, which must be retained indefinitely because of the lengthy appeal process. Although all evidence related to homicides is processed by the New Hampshire State Police lab, it comes back to Manchester and is stored in the special room.

There are rooms for drugs and for weapon. There is a room where all the evidence needed for a particular case can be stored for use during trial.

There's a refrigerated area for items that must be kept cold and a series of two-sided boxes in a wall, so a sample came be placed in the box from one side and the technician can access it from the hall outside and take it for processing.

And there are rooms for files ... lots of files. Paper isn't disappearing from the police department any time soon.

Mara is particularly pleased that all aspects of patrol are now in one area. On Chestnut Street, he said: "Patrol was all over the building. Now it has its own area." And it, like other divisions, has room to expand when it needs to.

There are dedicated spaces every division. There is a cyber crime area for a relatively new crime that is on the increase. Mara said the Secret Service trains Manchester Police officers who work on computer crime.

The chief says everything was researched, even partition height in the multiple desk areas. Too high and people feel isolated because when they stand up, all they see is the partition. The lower partition level provides separation, but not isolation, he said.

The donation of desks, filing cabinets and partitions by Bank of America, when it closed a Connecticut office, was a big moneysaver. Fabric had to be replaced on the partitions, he said, but it was much cheaper than buying new and everything looks new.

No longer will officers be sharing desks, computers and phones and they will all have direct access phone numbers they can give contacts, so calls won't have to go through the switchboard.

Mara is also proud of the new dispatch center, which has its own isolated work area, is in sharp contrast to the Chestnut Street location just off the lobby. Dispatchers also have a well-equipped break room. There are, in fact, a number of well-equipped break rooms in the building.

One of the big things is having rooms and items in logical places. There are blocks of weapons lockers in the wall outside meeting/interview rooms. Rifle lockers are located conveniently near the exit to vehicles, so the long guns can be taken out of the locker and put into the vehicle trunk at the start of a shift and removed from the trunk and safely store away at the end.

Most of the building will be off limits to the general public, but the area for reception and records and gun permits is more spacious than at Chestnut Street. In addition, sex offenders will have their own area for reporting.

The new building on Valley Street not only gives the Manchester Police Department room to grow, it gives the current 214 sworn officers and 60 plus civilian staff room to stand up and stretch and to give up sharing desks, chairs and phones. Mara sees that as a pyschological benefit of the new building that is a bonus for police and the public.

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Dale Vincent may be reached at