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"It's like working in a bunker'

Come Nov. 3, female employees of the city's police department might get a job essential they have done without for 32 years: restrooms.

That is, if residents give the green light to a $2.1-million referendum for a new police station that would provide the department's 21 female employees with on-site restrooms. They now have to travel outside the current building and into the City Hall.

"It's something that's long past due," City Commissioner Saranan Lauck said. "I'm surprised they haven't revolted."

The reason they haven't is simple, according to police Chief Tom Lang.

"When it was built in 1959, all of our department employees were male. It was not unusual at the time," he said. "But now it's ludicrous to have no plumbing facilities for female employees."

Unfortunately, the plight of the department's female employees is one on a long list of woes plaguing the building.

"With two windows in the whole building, it's like working in a bunker. When people are in that type of surrounding, it just makes it more difficult to get them to deal with the public from the open and helpful posture we're shooting for," Lang said.

There also is the problem of too little space. The department now occupies 7,400 square feet, some of which is inside an annex building. According to architectural studies, the department needs between 16,000 and 17,000 square feet.

"We're pretty jammed up in here," he said.

The same could be said for the building's ventilation and electrical wiring systems. "We have to put fans on the floor just to push fresh air in the place," he said.

The poor condition of those systems has caused overheating problems for the department's computers, telephones and the building.

"If we weren't the city government, we would be issuing a citation to ourselves."

Despite the building's shortcomings, Lang said his employees have rarely complained. "They knew the city had some other things that had to come first. It looks like it's finally our turn."

With the support of residents, the $2.125-million price tag for a new building would be paid by using general obligation bonds which are paid for by property taxes. Like Lang, Commissioner Bruno Falkenstein also is tossing his support behind the referendum. For different reasons, though.

"On a lunar high tide, there is always flooding in the Police Department. During Hurricane Elena, that was the first area we had to evacuate," he said. "These aren't the most ideal conditions to be operating under in a storm situation."

The proposed station, which would sit away from the water on the north side of the City Hall property, would be built above the flood plain, allowing it to house the city's emergency operation center.

"This city has always been very supportive of its police department," Lang said. "Our officers are among the best paid, the best trained and the best equipped. The only bad feature we've got here is the building."

Residents who would like more information are invited to tour the building, he said.