The Village of Cedarville is facing unforeseen difficulties in renovating the old American Legion building for police use. The building sits next to the village park, down the street from the fire station. The Village has been trying to find better facilities for the police department for years, and is now trying to find a solution to FEMA restrictions.
The village purchased the building in November of 2015 to serve as the new police station, but per Village Council minutes, it was discovered in March that the building rests on a flood plain. A survey completed by Luis G. Riancho & Assoc., Inc. in September determined the floor of the structure rests 1.5 feet below the flood plain projected in the event of a 100-year flood.
Council member David Brooks said FEMA guidelines require emergency service buildings, such as a police station, to meet more stringent requirements than other buildings, which include sitting above flood levels. The council is hoping FEMA will allow for zoning variances that will let the project move forward. If not, the village will have to pursue other solutions.
“[It was] very frustrating for everyone involved in the council,” Brooks said. “They were very disappointed. They had what they thought was just an excellent solution and ran into this.”
Brooks joined the council in January after the old American Legion post was purchased. He was unsure if an inspection had been done before the purchase that would have revealed the flood issues. Mayor Robert Fudge, said he could not remember if any inspections had been done, but he agreed with the council minutes that the building’s location being in a flood zone was not discovered until after the purchase.
Fudge said the village bought the old American Legion post because the current police station, located in the back of the opera house, does not meet the department’s needs.
“The current facility doesn’t give us much room for expansion, so there are limitations with our facility as well as it’s in poor condition,” Fudge said. “The American Legion building gives us the opportunity to have our own building and provide more space, more updated space, for our police department.”
The current location also lacks covered parking for the police cruisers, and the cruisers must park on the street. Both Brooks and Fudge said it would be ideal to have a better parking situation, preferably covered, for the cruisers.
Initially, the council saw no downside to purchasing the American Legion building. Fudge said the American Legion Post did not have enough members paying dues to afford taxes on the building and offered to sell the building to the village for $37,000; well below the appraised value of $75,000.
This included the approximate 1.59-acre tract of land the building rests on, according the LJB survey conducted in October of 2015. Fudge said the land provides continuity with the village-owned park and provides room for the building of additional structures, such as, an overhang or garage for the police cruisers. The building provides more than double the space of the current police station.
“From what I can see, since coming on and looking into it a little bit, it was a good opportunity,” Brooks said. “Maybe more information could have been gathered. I can’t say for sure.”
Brooks said the village is seeking a variance from the FEMA guidelines to avoid restrictive zoning codes that would require lifting the structure above flood levels. Brooks said he thinks the FEMA regulation is overly restrictive for small towns.
“I don’t think they were thinking clearly about small towns in rural areas where even if there were an emergency and we had trouble at the police station we would still have the capacity to respond,” Brooks said. “That would not doom our town to disaster because our very small police station had three inches of water in it.”
Fudge said the village attorney, Steve Bogenschutz, and Zoning Administrator Harold Stancliff are working to determine what the village can legally do.
“We have FEMA limitations, we think there might be county limitations, and ultimately though, some of the decision is made internally because we have our own zoning,” Fudge said. “I would assume we would have a decision, one way or the other, probably early next year. February or March sometime, maybe sooner, but at the pace of government that’s realistic.”
If the village can proceed with converting the American Legion building into a police station without lifting the structure, Fudge said the estimated renovation cost was in the $100,000 range. This estimate was provided by Walker Mitchell, a consultant with Brentwood Building, Inc., who has agreed to do pro-bono work supervising the project for the village when a decision is made to proceed with renovations. Fudge said he hopes to offset the cost by turning the renovation into a community project. If the building must be lifted, Fudge said the cost would increase, but he did not know by how much.
“I will say today, that will be a police department,” Fudge said. “The only reason we would not do it is if there is too much monetary risk for the village to do that.”
Fudge said he is confident that will not happen, but if it does, the property can still serve several village functions. The mayor said the village offices could be moved to that location and it could also be used by the new Parks Committee that is working on renovating the park.
“We didn’t throw $37,000 away either way,” Fudge said.
Brooks agreed and said the building may still be able to serve some police functions. Both Brooks and Fudge said they believe the property can be used to park the police cruisers regardless. If the property was used for village purposes, village code would require the purchase price to be transferred from the general funds to the police-designated funds because the property was purchased through police-designated funds. Brooks said this would probably not be difficult.
“We’re not talking about a massive amount of money if you had to do that,” Brooks said. “So yeah you could, but then you would have that money spent. Plus, we would still have no solution for the police station. So, it would be a big hit. We’d be able to use it, but it’s not something we would have purchased otherwise.”
Despite the problems the village has encountered with the building, he said he likes the plan to turn it into a police station if the problems can be resolved.
“If we get it, there is really no downside to it,” Brooks said. “That’s why I’m in favor of it. I don’t see any negative to moving there once the cost of getting it ready is covered. It gives the village a much better facility than they have now. The chief of police has been saying it’s really necessary. I think everyone on the council thinks something needs to be done.”
Keegan D’Alfonso is a sophomore journalism major and the off-campus news editor for Cedars. He was a sergeant in the Marines and enjoys learning about and experiencing other cultures.