The need for a new headquarters for the Hamlet Police Department has been there for many years, according to city officials.
The city purchased the former A&P grocery store building, located across from City Hall, for $50,000 — a low price not offered to the general public. City officials said in recent interviews that the department simply has run out of space in which to store evidence and operate a city police squad.
“Back some many years ago there was a feasibility study done on our space and the needs for the space,” said Hamlet Police Chief Amery Griffin. “Every chief since then has been looking for a new building.”
The Hamlet police have been outgrowing their space for years, Griffin said. In his efforts to find a more workable space, Griffin came across the A&P building across the street from City Hall.
“I’ve been corresponding with the owners of the building for a year,” Griffin said. “At the time it was being leased and under a charitable trust. I told them if they ever had it available to give me a call, and they did.”
The space for the Hamlet police will grow from 1,200 sq. ft. to 11,000 sq. ft. The additional space is something sorely needed, Griffin said.
“The evidence room over there is crammed,” said Councilman Pat Preslar, who has a law enforcement background with the federal government. “They don’t have a meeting or training room. There needs to be more officer workspace and a multipurpose type room where they won’t have to go to the college (Richmond Community College) or to City Hall to do various things. There needs to be space for equipment and most importantly a place to store and secure evidence that needs to be under lock and key.”
There are currently two large rooms at the headquarters that are used only to store evidence, Griffin said.
Preslar said the transaction “was a good deal” and expects the community to benefit.
The building would have been sold at a much higher price had it not went to the city to help the community, Preslar said. It was initially listed around $150,000.
The city of Hamlet, under Smart and the council, approved on Dec. 17 a contract with Summey Engineering Associates for engineering and design services. The price of these services are $28,500 for engineering and design services and up to $7,800 for construction specification and bid services.
The engineer study is a necessary part, Preslar said. The study helps the city to get any kind of money that would help with the project, such as grants.
There isn’t much on public record regarding the purchase of the building —only Smart’s brief comments at the September meeting. However, Preslar insisted there was nothing wrong with the council’s acquisition of the building.
“There is a contention going around that we bought the building under shady circumstances,” Preslar said. “There’s nothing shady about it. We were doing a building transaction. You can go into closed session and keep it amongst city officials. We saw a need for a new police department. The building was huge with lots of parking, so we jumped on it.”
There seems to be no public record that indicates the council held an executive, or closed, session to discuss the issue. North Carolina open meetings laws allows an elected body to meet behind closed doors to discuss the acquisition of real property, or the amount thereof.
However, there is no record of a closed session taking place between the council’s August public meeting and Smart’s announcement a month later that the building had been purchased. To date, the city’s purchase of the building has not been brought up for public discourse by city officials during a public meeting save for the lone exception of Smart’s comment —which included a reference to a unanimous vote taken at an undisclosed time.
The issue could be mentioned at tonight’s regularly scheduled public meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.