The parcel of land on the eastern end of Main Street in Millsboro, with a sign declaring it’s the future location of the new Millsboro Town Hall, remains vacant and cleared.

Plans are still in place to build a $5.4 million steel, or $5 million wooden, structure that will house town government offices and to renovate the existing Town Hall for the police department.

Last year, those renovation costs were estimated at $3.9 million, but this week Police Chief Brian Calloway said the estimate has increased to $5 million. The figures might not take into account project-related costs, Town Manager Sheldon Hudson said.

“The cost is higher due to construction costs, and the safety and security of a police department,” Calloway said.

“The days of just having a bench where someone can sit after they are arrested are coming to an end. The bench we have has fit our needs for a lot of years, but what happens when we can’t do that? What happens when we have to watch prisoners for a longer period of time? Is that an appropriate place to put people?

“Also, when you bring victims in, are you putting them in a safe location and not having them have to see someone who was arrested?” Calloway said.

It’s important for a police station to have a proper front door, the chief said.

“People have to know where emergency services are and how to get there and that it’s accessible, so they have to know where that front door is,” he said.

Town officials started talking about a new police department building in 2017, he said.

“The progress has not been quick, nor should it be. Our officials need to plan for what will Millsboro will look like 20, or even 30, years from now. People want to see action and it’s not happening yet, but you have to consider all the factors. And, this is not the only thing we need here. We have other needs here in this town, like the infrastructure. We can get by. We can partner up with desks. Some people with a locker, like me, might have to say, ‘Maybe I don’t have the luxury of having a locker anymore.’

“Some of the guys who have take-home cars might just use their lockers for old uniforms,” he said, adding that the police department can continue to function efficiently in its current location without compromising the safety of Millsboro residents.

“There are still plans for some sort of facility or facilities,” Hudson said.

“When the FY21 budget is adopted, we will figure out how much money is available. There could be a change of plans to reflect the realities of the budget, but there won’t be anything definitive until after the budget is adopted,” he said, adding that details and logistics “remain fluid.”

Town officials will work backward, in a sense, he said, knowing there is a certain amount of money allocated for town projects, then determining how it will be used.

“We want to keep the number reasonable. How Council defines reasonable is yet to be determined. As town manger, I would never want to see a non-inflation-based tax increase or increase of any kind for a building,” Hudson said.

“The last thing we want to do is raise taxes,” Calloway agreed.

“The question is, do we combine into one building, do we build a new police station at another location, do we remodel the current Town Hall and make it a police station, do we still build downtown?” Hudson said.

If plans to put Town Hall downtown change, the Town will retain ownership of the prime property Hudson described as “a gateway site.”

“We would still dress it up, maybe get a fountain, a gatehouse, a pavilion or benches, make it a parkette, or just hold the land for a while and build later. There are a lot of iterations. But the official plan is still to build a new Town Hall there. It just depends on the budget numbers,” Hudson told the Coastal Point this week.

The 2021-fiscal-year budget is expected to be discussed at the July 6 town council meeting. Hudson said the amount of the proposed budget wasn’t yet firm.

Councilman Larry Gum recently told the Coastal Point that Millsboro police have been operating in cramped quarters, in the building that once housed the post office, and they are “wall to wall in there.”

“I give them a lot of credit. Chief Calloway has made use of every square inch of that building. We’re looking to build a new Town Hall, but right now the figures are so high that we are still in progress.

“We still haven’t issued any contracts. It’s in progress. It’s not moving real fast. The police have been real good about waiting,” Gum said.

Council has wrangled with options for more than a year

During a meeting to discuss town hall last August, council members reviewed plans, considered estimates and determined the entire project would take about four years.

They met with Freddy Bada of Moonlight Architecture in Lewes, hired to design a new town hall, and Mike Wigley of Davis, Bowen & Friedel Inc. in Salisbury, Md., charged with laying out the new police station.

Consideration of a council chamber that could seat 300 people changed as the discussion progressed, especially after Councilman John Thoroughgood said cities like Salisbury and Fruitland, Md., don’t try to provide hundreds of chairs for the public. Only meetings with contentious matters on the agenda draw large crowds, he said.

“We want a nice facility, a very attractive gateway, something striking. It’s also important to the Town that it not be ostentatious or a Taj Mahal. We want it to fit in with the surrounding area downtown,” Hudson said at the time, adding that it would take about two and a half years to put up a new town hall, and another one and a half years to renovate the existing structure for police department occupancy.

The two projects probably could not be done concurrently, Hudson said, because town hall can’t be occupied while renovation is under way, unless it could be accomplished without creating noise and dust that would irritate employees.

Mayor Michelle Truitt opposed having Town Hall and the police department in the same building.

“It’s not secure. With the liability in this day and time, I just don’t have a good feeling about it,” she said.

Calloway agreed, saying it could be disruptive for civilian employees. He said the police department, in years to come, might also need a dispatch center, with towers and related equipment, and that should be considered.

Councilman Tim Hodges asked if there would be adequate parking, but Thoroughgood said there’s enough parking downtown, with 138 spaces only one block away from where town hall is set to be built. Additional land could be purchased to make a parking lot, he said.

Another option the council considered was renovating the existing police station, using that space for the council chamber and meeting room, and building a new 10,000-square-foot building, with the cost to refurbish the 3,000-square-foot police station at $125 per square foot, or $375,000, plus site work.

Gum, at the time, said his priority was the police station.

“I hate to see the chief wait four to five years to get a new police station. That upsets me terribly. Cost and time,” he said.

Gum also said Millsboro didn’t have to provide that many seats in the council chamber.

“If you’re going to do it, do it right. What we can afford, what we can’t — I think you have to be accountable to the public about why you’re spending all this money, making it a showpiece. I’m not interested in a showpiece. I’m interested in a functional building. … Is it a functional area or is it something pretty to look at? That is my concern,” he said.

At another special session in September, Wigley told council members that the cost to renovate for the police department would be $5.3 million. Bada estimated the cost to build a town hall with nine offices, a second floor and two stairways at $4.2 to $4.3 million, but Hudson later said the cost would come down.

“They don’t take into account getting rid of the meeting room and getting rid of about half the extra offices, as we talked about. We will have maybe around $1 million of cost avoidance. We talked about having to borrow, but council is not interested in borrowing. We have talked to one consultant about the Town’s debt load, and she said we certainly are at a middle range and not too high. That’s good to know.

“If the Town spent that much for a new town hall, we would have to do some reallocating, but probably not borrowing. Council can reallocate its set-asides,” Hudson explained, referring to reserve funds.

“There is $4.3 million in our budget, to use to build, and the Town would have to borrow and use transfer tax. There is $5.5 million set aside for expenses including infrastructure, water meters and streets,” he said.

Bada then reviewed modified plans. He asked council members, “Do we really need 2,400 square feet for our council chamber? Do we really have meetings that are that big, that often?”

He said he redrafted the plan and eliminated 25 percent of the originally designed chamber and made seating for 200 people — larger than the current chamber that seats about 50.

Hodges pushed for a one-story building, but Bada suggested two levels, and Wigley agreed, saying there might not be sufficient space on the Main Street lot for a single story.

“I don’t know that you want to utilize 100 percent of that footprint by having a one-story building,” Bada said.

“You might want to put in some green space. I do think we should keep a little bit of extra green space there. Part of this is trying to bring people into the core of the town, and these are the kinds of things that give the feeling you are trying to achieve,” he said.

“How about if we scale the extra offices down? There’s an awful lot of extra offices there. There’s a lot of room where the sidewalk is. Let this float and work it into our overall budget. Hopefully, we’ll be able to give the chief everything he wants if we can narrow down the cost of the town hall. I’d like to give the chief everything he wants,” Hodges said.

He called for minimizing the square footage and “keeping the money in the set-aside where we placed it.”

Wigley reviewed five options for the new police station, including with and without a sally port, not changing the façade of Town Hall and changing the façade of Town Hall.

Calloway said he liked the idea of moving his police department to the existing town hall.

“If I needed to get to Route 113 from Town Hall, I could almost run there from here. I could be there in a short period of time, but from Main Street downtown, it can be difficult for us to get to Route 113 as quickly. From here, if I need to get to 113 and 24 for a major accident, I can get there very quickly,” he said.

“The sally port is nice. Could I do without it? Yes. Maybe it’s something we could budget in the future,” Calloway said.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.