MT. JULIET -- When it’s finished, the MJ Café’s going to be a nice break room for the hard-working officers of the Mt. Juliet Police Department.
It’s just a bend in the hallway, but it’s where the coffee will be – and the microwave.
The new MJPD Headquarters in the old Joy Church Building has much to recommend it, said Lt. Tyler Chandler, MJPD community relations officer. The new HQ is more secure, with no public access to MJPD offices except those where the public needs to do business, like the Records Office, Chandler said.
Too much access was a feature of the MJPD offices when the police were working out of City Hall, from which they moved this past week, Chandler added.
Only the dispatch center had not moved by the middle of this week. Travis Taylor, the city’s information technology director who coordinated the construction process for the whole new building, was working this week on getting the dispatch center ready to move – and it’s next, according to Chandler.
But officers, detectives, support staff and administrators were all working out of the new MJPD Headquarters Wednesday, when Chandler took a Wilson Post writer and photographer around the new facility to display its many charms.
There’s the vault-tight ammo storage room, the auditorium for in-house training, the still-in-progress high-ceilinged courtroom, the double-stove kitchen left over from the building’s Joy Church days, evidence lockers exuding the odor of freshly-busted marijuana and shiny rows of officers’ personal lockers purchased with seized drug money and recently approved by the City Commission.
There’s even the MJ Café – and all for a purchase and renovation cost of about $2 million, according to City Manager Kenny Martin, who pointed out that the City of Franklin’s new police headquarters cost more than $30 million.
Partly, the City of Mt. Juliet refitted the former church as a police HQ so inexpensively because it looked for opportunities to save. “We got most of our furniture surplus from the state for $8,000, total,” Chandler said.
But partly, the city got a first-class renovation at the best price due to the contractor’s public spirit, according to Police Chief James Hambrick.
“I’m so proud of the work the contractor has done,” the chief said. “He incorporated some things into his work that he didn’t have to do, just because he wanted it to be the best that it could be.”
As a result, “we were able to incorporate a few new things into this,” Hambrick said. “I remember when we used to be in the old facility over by the wedding chapel,” he added, and moving into City Hall from there “was an upgrade. Now we have even more.”
A really big aspect of the improvement – literally – is the extra space in the facility, Chandler said. “We used to have 8,000 square feet of usable space, but now we have about 15,000. We almost doubled our space,” he enthused.
But some of the specific new improvements also are mighty sweet from both a professional and money-saving perspective, Chandler said. A major example? The new 40-seat training room with a permanent projector attached to the ceiling and a retractable movie screen, much like a college classroom has.
The auditorium is more than double the size of the room the MJPD previously used for training until it was converted to office space and they really had no training space at all. Now they can provide, in-house, the 40 hours of training that officers are required by state law to obtain each year, at a considerable savings, according to Chandler.
“We won’t have to pay as much for our training, because the space to hold it will already be paid for,” the lieutenant explained. Plus, it will be available right here in Mt. Juliet.
The extra space also is suiting Lt. Wesley Neely, commander of the Patrol Division, and his officers just fine, Neely said.
“I’m tickled with this,” he said. “We have more space. There’s room to breathe, and we have a bigger training room.”
But the new HQ will really feel like home, even with that new-carpet smell, once every finishing touch has been put in place by the hard-working construction crew and nobody is working there except police, Neely said.
“Once dispatch is here, and the courtroom is finished, it will be even better,” the patrol commander said.
Neely’s officers were out on the streets, but the detectives in the Criminal Investigations Division were each busy at work at their desks behind partitioned spaces in their new office, where they can collaborate and brainstorm together if needed, but also have private space to work. Their office is right behind that of Sgt. Joseph Riddle, who is the CID director, and two new interview rooms.
A third interview room off the front lobby is accessible to the public so police can talk to a citizen without having to bring him or her back into headquarters, Chandler also said.
“It’s nice to have our own space,” he said. “With this move, everything is just expanding. There’s more space, in our own secure environment.”
“This building is leaps and bounds ahead of what we had,” agreed Sgt. Scott Fulton, MJPD armorer and training officer, whose job is to check weapons for wear and tear, clean and maintain them, as well as maintaining the armory, an atmospherically-controlled strongroom inside Fulton’s office.
“It’s almost a vault,” Fulton said about the armory, whose steel door is covered, on the outside, with snapshots of Fulton’s grandkids. All the officers have personalized their offices with pictures already. But this is the only door in the building that only a few officers have keys to.
On one set of wooden shelves inside the armory, boxes and boxes of ammunition marked “for law enforcement use only” sit stacked in neat piles, according to caliber and weapon type. Most of the weapons are out in the field with officers, but a few are stored in a stand across the room from the ammo, waiting to be assigned.
The shelves currently contain about 100,000 rounds of ammo, and Mt. Juliet Police use about 60,000 per year, mostly for shooting practice at training, Fulton said.
“The one thing we don’t have yet is secure parking,” Chandler said about the new facility, overall. Of course, the front parking lot, where police cruisers and SWAT vehicles are usually parked, is under constant video surveillance.
But the department would like to have a paved area beside or behind the building that can be fenced off for better vehicle security, Chandler said, adding that maybe that project can be included in the 2015-2016 city budget.
Hambrick also said how beautiful and dignified the new courtroom will be. Its woodwork was still waiting to be stained or varnished Wednesday, and the carpet for its floor was still stored in rolls on the lobby floor, ready to be installed, but its future appearance could be sensed from its spacious layout and lofty ceilings.
Like the courtroom, the front lobby will be open to the public and already contains the medicine drop box where citizens can dispose of expired prescription drugs without polluting local streams or tempting kids to get into the medicine cabinet.
The automated driver’s license kiosk remains in City Hall, but it will be on its way next, Chandler said – along with the dispatch center.
The other office with a window onto the public-access area is the Records Office, where the new facility also is meeting with the general approval of the staff.
“We like it,” said Susan Gaskill, who has worked in the Records Office nearly eight years. “It’s got lots of room, and much nicer work stations. It’s peaceful so far, because people haven’t figured out where we’re at just yet.”
But not only are City Hall staff helping direct citizens to the new HQ, the public will really get acquainted with their new police headquarters at the monthly Coffee with a Cop program on Friday, July 18, which will be held at the new headquarters from 7-9 a.m.
Coffee with a Cop will be followed by the new facility’s ribbon-cutting and open house at 9 a.m. July 18, and the public is welcome.
“I really love the new facility,” Hambrick concluded. “I want to thank the city leaders for purchasing and renovating it.”
Correspondent Connie Esh may be contacted at email@example.com.