AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS Weatherly Mayor Tom Connors, left, and borough manager Harold Pudliner, right, show state Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) two possible plans for helping the borough's police department obtain more space. Currently, the police station, which is housed in the former Weatherly Train Station, has two rooms totaling 258 square feet which serve as an office for 13 officers, criminal holding area, evidence room, lunch room, locker room and storage facility.
Weatherly police know the meaning of tight quarters.
Their station, located in the former Weatherly Train Station, has two rooms totaling 258 square feet. One is the department's main office and criminal holding area and the second serves as the evidence locker, lunch room, locker room, and storage facility.
When officers make an arrest and bring the person to their department, the defendant is seated on a bench, located only about three feet away from the officers' working quarters.
Patrolman Michael Bogart explained that this makes things difficult for the 13-person department because as they are speaking with victims, magistrates or other court officials, the defendant is able to hear every word they say.
"It's tight quarters but we're trying to make due with what we have," he said.
This lack of space is the reason why borough officials have reached out and asked for help from county, state and federal officials.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) toured the station, which has housed the borough offices, council chambers and police department since 1978, and listened to two potential plans the borough has for alleviating the cramped space and safety issues inside the department. Two other visits from state Sen. John Yudichak and Congressman Lou Barletta are planned for the upcoming week. The reason for the visits is to see what can be done financially to help Weatherly obtain the extra space that it needs for the police.
During the presentation and tour, Mayor Tom Connors and Harold Pudliner, borough manager, discussed their concerns about the small station.
Connors explained that the main concern is to make sure the police are working in a safe environment, which can be compromised in the current station.
"We're not looking to spend millions of dollars on a new building," he said. "We're just looking for help because it's not a matter of wanting a new station, it's a matter of needing one. It's a big safety issue right now."
Connors and Pudliner went over the borough's two options, which include either building an addition onto the back of the train station or moving the borough offices and police department a block away to the 16-acre former Tung-Sol property, which the borough owns.
The problem with expanding the current structure is that Norfolk Southern owns the property up to the sidewalks behind the station. This means that if adding an addition is the final option, the borough can only expand outward by about 10 feet.
Bogart said that it would be good to expand, but that means officers would then be closer to the active rail lines, which can cause a hazard if a defendant begins to fight with officers as they try to bring him or her in.
Another challenge for expanding the current building would be to not harm the integrity of the historical structure.
Connors explained at the Tung-Sol property, the borough would have enough space to build the new borough building and police station and still have room to market for a grocery store. The site has recently been rezoned from industrial to commercial and Weatherly would like to see a small shopping complex developed on part of the land.
Heffley said he will take the information Pudliner, Connors and Bogart presented back to the appropriations committee to see what can be done and which option would be most feasible for the borough.
He noted that communities, such as Weatherly, which have been frugal over the years, not spending frivolously, have a better chance of getting help financially, even when budgets are tight.
"If there is something out there that we can help you with, then we will try," Heffley said. "Weatherly has done a lot with what is here. At some point though, things like this become a safety issue."
Connors thanked Heffley for taking the time to meet with officials and see that there is a need for expansion.
He noted that right now, the borough does not have any funding in place for this project, but is searching all avenues.
"We need this done now," Connors said, adding that this is not a project that the borough plans to let sit for a decade or more.
"We need to give the police department the space they need to work efficiently. We are hoping to get help but if the state can't, then we will roll up our sleeves and get it done."
Bogart added that the police are currently set to exceed last year's incident reports.
"It's busier than it's ever been," he said, noting that in July alone officers responded to 348 incidents. Overall over 2,000 incidents have occurred this year.
"I'm hoping for a new building but I'll take anything we can get," Bogart said.