ROXBORO -- Mayor Steve Joyner says he faces this question repeatedly, almost to the point of it being a joke: "Hey, when's your police station going to get built?"
At noon today, he'll have his response for all to see.
Joyner and fellow officials, armed with ceremonial shovels, are breaking ground at the site of the now-demolished Tom's Auto Supply, located near the corner of Lamar Street and Reams Avenue and just downhill from City Hall.
In mid-June, Central Builders of Graham submitted a $2.78 million bid for the project, and work is expected to be completed in about a year.
"Finally" is the word Joyner uses to describe his feelings about the official start of construction on a 15,000-square-foot structure. It'll replace a police headquarters uphill in an old Sprint telephone service building with only about 4,000 square feet of space.
Joyner has said that he thinks the project shows that the Person County seat of nearly 8,700 believes in self-investment, particularly in the historic central business district.
Plans for the new station remained on hold for about a year and a half because fuel was found to have been leaking from a nearby underground gas tank onto the Tom's property. The owner of Tom's had extensive testing conducted, and a cleanup was done, satisfying state environmental officials.
The construction of the station will now also coincide with the demolition of some dilapidated buildings next door.
Julie Kelly, Roxboro's planning/development director, said she received a letter dated Tuesday from Jimmie L. Bowes, president of Person Earth Movers, who said he recently acquired the structures and that they'd be demolished within the next two weeks.
Bringing the buildings in line with codes would be too expensive, Bowes said in the letter.
"I'm glad that he's voluntarily doing that because they are in really bad shape," Kelly said.
Kelly said she hadn't heard yet what would happen to another nearby cluster of deteriorating structures, which a published report has identified as being owned by New Top Investments Inc.
A survey of other police departments in the Triangle shows that building improvements, making the most of space and finding better ways to reach the public are ongoing concerns.
Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said her department moved into its current headquarters in 1991, and that the records division and first floor lobby area recently underwent major renovations.
"Right now, the Police Department is in the process of preparing a facility master plan for the next 10 years," she said.
The building dates back to 1956 and is six stories, yet hasn't been big enough to handle an expanding department in a city whose population today exceeds 200,000.
Police administrators in 1999 said they needed a four-story, 50,000-square-foot addition and a new 10,000-square-foot area to house a new state-of-the-art crime laboratory. That didn't happen; the crime lab is in a separate building on Broadway Street.
In Chapel Hill, the police headquarters there dates to 1981 and has had structural problems, yet also has undergone quite a bit of reorganizing to meet the demands of a growing municipality whose population has passed the 49,000 mark.
Much of a $700,000 bond issue, approved in the mid-1990s, has been used over the years to replace a leaky roof and repair areas that suffered damage from the seepage, said Valerie Foushee, a police administrative services supervisor.
Another major change, she said, was putting the magistrate's office at the front of the building, but also with a separate entrance. That keeps accused criminals separate from alleged victims as well as visitors and those with other business at the police station.
More recent improvements, Foushee said, focused on creating room for additional police offices.
According to Foushee, plans also call for opening another police substation, this one at a donated residence along Sykes Street.
In Oxford, Police Chief John Wolford's department is headquartered in a building built in 1978.
"We do like the idea of a satellite office somewhere in the city as part of our community-oriented policing plan under our umbrella 'Police and Community Together' [program], but have not pursued that aggressively recently," he said.
Oxford's population is approximately 8,500, so the city's small size is a factor in Wolford's considerations.
Wolford did say he was exploring possibilities for funding a mobile command policing center, which he believed would provide greater flexibility to patrol in a certain area for an extended period, plus provide greater contact and exposure.
"As our city grows, we know there may be a need for some renovations and/or expansion at our facility, but in conjunction with the Board of Commissioners and the city manager, that will be addressed as the need arises," he said.