WHEELING, W.Va. — Wheeling residents will have a decision to make in the upcoming general election regarding a bond proposal for a new public safety building.
The possible building would house both the Wheeling Police and Fire departments. Both offices are offering open house tours of their current departments and stations throughout the city to show why they need the building.
“We know the importance of having educated voters and the importance of constraints on an individual’s finances,” Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said.
“In an effort to try to make the voter as educated as possible as far as the needs justification, we are doing a series of tours.”
The project would cost roughly $22 million dollars. Schwertfeger added the conceptual design has already been done and the location has also been picked out; the building would be on city-owned property at the corner of 10th and Market streets in downtown Wheeling.
Currently, the Wheeling Police Department headquarters is at the Ohio County Courthouse. Schwertfeger stated the police department has 87 employees.
He says the department needs roughly 30,000 square feet in space in order to be functional and said in comparison, Marshall County Sheriff’s department works with 26,000 square feet and they are not quite half the size of the Wheeling department.
“It scares me to death to not have enough space for the evidence that comes in every day,” Schwertfeger said. “We have no meeting space. The United States Secret Service was in town a couple weeks ago because the President of the United State was coming to Wheeling and we have to go off site to have a meeting because we don’t have the space and meeting room.”
“We have no technology to put data up on the screen and use that to our advantage to curb crime and crime trends and quality of life issues,” he added.
Schwertfeger noted that the department has roughly 50 uniformed police officers and four workstations.
“We have 12 or 14 guys working at one time sometimes, vying for four desks,” Schwertfeger said. “There is no structural meeting or role call space for them. There’s no technology for them to have a decent 20-minute training session and be able to sit down in a learning environment. They basically come in, a couple of them will get a chair and the rest will stand because of space.”
The fire department currently has seven stations around the city and with the proposed public safety building, it would eliminate two of those stations. One station would be housed at the public safety building, giving the fire department six total stations.
Project BEST in Wheeling has helped fund a campaign for the departments.
“I think there is significant momentum, Schwertfeger said. “There is a lot of people talking about it. One thing I have not heard from people is, ‘Well, there is really not a need here.’ The need has been sold, it’s just a matter of whether or not the voters can find it within themselves to cast that yes vote with their personal finances in mind.”
If not passed, Schwertfeger said they will have to wait two more years for a similar proposal.
“We have to do something,” Schwertfeger said. “This is not fluff, what we are talking about is purely a need for first responders.”