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Tamaqua police building on track

When there’s a shift change at the Tamaqua Police Department, officers frequently stand over each other, waiting for a desk to open in the small room they share.

The office at the Tamaqua Municipal Building is so cramped that police often use council chambers for interviews. It also hasn’t seen an update over the last 50 years.

But the department will soon have a new - and bigger - home, said Micah Gursky, executive director of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership.

The nonprofit partnership bought the former Moose building at 133 E. Broad St. last year, and plans to convert it into a new police department, community center and district magistrate office. The $4.5 million project will include renovations along with a 3-story addition, Gursky said.

“It is going to dramatically change the operations by providing more space and more office space for the officers,” Gursky said.

On Tuesday, he opened the building to Chief Michael Hobbs, borough Manager Kevin Steigerwalt, and representatives from M & T Bank, which pledged at least $25,000 to the project.

“Where the police department is now is about 1,300 square feet, and this will be up to about 4,500 square feet,” Gursky said of the mostly-gutted building. “It’s going to be significantly larger.”

The first floor will be reserved for police department offices, secure interview rooms and areas for crime survivors. The basement will be used for evidence and storage, and a secure “sally port” will be added so police can safely transfer in-custody suspects.

“It’s going to be a much better facility for the police,” Gursky said.

The second floor will be for the district magistrate office, and the third will house a community hall.

The John E. Morgan Foundation will support the community hall project and asked the partnership to recreate the former borough community center at the Mohn Building.

“It is a community social hall for senior citizen bingo, wedding receptions, dinners and meetings,” Gursky said.

Parking will be behind the building where the partnership purchased and leveled several blighted properties along East Mauch Chunk and Pine streets.

“People were squatting in two of the apartment buildings. There were broken windows and a lot of nefarious activities,” Gursky said.

Hobbs said the department was frequently called to the apartments. In one building, a second floor had holes that looked into the apartments below.

“You had to watch when you were walking around in there,” he said.

“As soon as we acquired it, we accelerated the demolition to remove the blight,” Gursky said.

The project will go out to bid this summer.

Gursky is hopeful that work will begin in the fall or next spring.

“We own and operate it right now. We are going to take it through the development stage. We are managing the grant, we are managing the contract. We’ll manage construction,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are going to turn it over to the borough and the borough will actually operate it.”

Gursky said the partnership had considered constructing a new building.

“It is so much more economical and better for the community to re-use buildings,” he said.

John Jablowski Jr., senior vice president of government banking for M & T, applauded the partnership’s decision to “adapt and re-use” the building - something that he has seen others community do.

“That success breeds success,” he said.

“The removal of the blight is such a great first step,” said Gayle D’Angelo, regional Community Reinvestment Act manager. “And once that gets done, to watch that get fingers and legs and move out to the community, that is going to be awesome.”

To help cover the project, the partnership will use a $2 million grant that it received in 2021 from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Recently retired state Rep. Jerry Knowles helped secure the grant.

Gursky said the partnership is in the process of planning an Aug. 8 event to raise additional funds for the project.

Micah Gursky, right, executive director of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, led a tour of the site of the future Tamaqua police station and community center at the former Moose building, 133 E. Broad St. From left are Kevin Steigerwalt, Tamaqua borough manager; Gail D'Angelo, M & T Bank; Police Chief Michael Hobbs; Melissa Hovenstine, John Jablowski Jr. and Michele Pompa, all of M & T Bank, which pledged at least $25,000 toward the $4.5 million project. JILL WHALEN/TIMES NEWS
Tamaqua Police Chief Michael Hobbs, left, and Micah Gursky, executive director of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, check out the second floor of the former Tamaqua Moose building on East Broad Street. The partnership owns the building and plans to convert it into a new police station and community center. JILL WHALEN/TIMES NEWS
Micah Gursky, executive director of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, at right, leads a tour of the former Tamaqua Moose building on East Broad Street. Also shown is Melissa Hovenstine of M&T Bank, which pledged at least $25,000 to the $4.5 million project to convert the building into a new police station and community centers. JILL WHALEN/TIMES NEWS