When it rains, water runs down the walls of Covington’s police department.
The plaster’s bubbled, the wallpaper’s peeling. If you look up, the covers for the lights are brown with pooled rainwater.
Ceiling tiles, even though they were replaced a few months ago, bulge with water damage in the lobby, court room, almost every office, every hallway, every bathroom.
Upstairs in the evidence room, mold-covered insulation hangs down in an area where a ceiling tile has gone missing. Det. Mario Hall holds it up with a broom.
“And that was just fixed not too long ago,” Asst. Chief Allen Wilson, who leads the tour of the facility, said.
Black mold inside the building is a concern, and Wilson said the detectives whose offices are upstairs are always sick.
Sometimes officers are shocked in the stairwell when turning the light switch.
Outside, there’s standing water on the roof, rusted gutters, awnings covered in mold and mildew.
There’s no privacy for investigators, no security for anyone in the building.
The building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is a concern when the building is supposed to serve the general public.
There’s no place for officers to shower – there’s one on the second floor, but its use was prohibited in April 2003 by then-assistant chief Larry Russell, who’s now retired – and no place for them to change clothes. There’s not even a legitimate break room, but rather a conference table and mismatched chairs hidden behind a row of filing cabinets.
In summary, said police chief Buddy Lewis Tuesday, the building “is an embarrassment.”
Last month, Stockton Reeves, a representative from the Center for Public Safety, was hired to conduct a spatial study for the department as Lewis explores options for its eventual relocation.
“He expressed to me that our facility was truly the worst that he had ever seen,” Lewis told the mayor and aldermen during a Finance and Administration Committee meeting. “Those comments from someone who has toured many facilities all over our country was embarrassing to me and should be an embarrassment to the City of Covington. The current condition of the Covington Police Department is as bad as it can be. How do you expect employees to come to work with a good attitude in these conditions?”
Wednesday, officers and staff were embarrassed to have conditions photographed.
Built in 1957 to serve as city hall, over the years the building has also housed the fire department and jail cells in addition to its police department.
In 1987 when Wilson was hired, the department was located on the highway near Spring Street in the facility that is now home to the the county clerk’s office, driver’s service center and Central Dispatch.
In 1998, the department moved to its current location at the corner of East Pleasant and North Maple.
“I’ve been in this same office ever since,” Wilson said, kicking at the spot under his desk where a linoleum tile has been missing for years. “We really need to do something.”
Lewis has been working on getting authorization for studies for months and on Tuesday the board unanimously agreed that “doing something” is long overdue.
Renovating the current facility, which is much too small for its needs, Lewis said, was not an option.
“The building is not going to get there without an awful lot of money. It’s shocking to see the condition it’s in,” said vice mayor Mac McGowan. “If we can, we need to move on a new building expeditiously and purposefully.”
Lewis presented the results of the study, which show how much space and personnel would be needed over the next 20 years, and potential locations were discussed.
A tract of land across from H.T. Hackney in the South Industrial Park, which is near the intersection of Mueller Brass Road and South College Street, would provide growing room for the department. The city could acquire it at no cost, mayor Justin Hanson reported.
Hanson, however, would prefer the department to be located in downtown Covington at the site of the former Tipton County Commission on Aging building, which is also known as the former Covington Grammar School.
“We’re landlocked there, though, and we need room to grow,” Lewis said of the 4.2-acre property a block from Highway 51.
Board members voted to give Hanson authority to proceed with the project and discussed adopting an aggressive two-year timeline.
“The condition of that building requires us to be aggressive,” McGowan said. “It’s significant enough that we need a timeframe.”
In the end, the board decided on “as soon as possible” as their goal as they recognized they were not in control of some aspects of the project.
From here, the city will need to find a firm to design the facility and secure the location and funding.
The study detailing the best possible location are exepected by the end of the week, Lewis said.
“We need to get them out of that place as soon as we can,” said alderman Jere Hadley. “It’s time to quit talking about it and time to start working on it.”
Initial estimates for the project are in the $3-4 million range, Hanson said.