Vernon Hills considers police station rehab
"A lot of people look at this as ‘Big Brother’ but that’s not the case at all," Vernon Hills Police Chief Mark Fleischhauer said of the state's new reciprocal reporting law. | Pioneer Press file photo
Updated: February 18, 2013 1:16AM
VERNON HILLS — Residential growth in the late 1990s, followed by retail decline in 2008, left the Vernon Hills police station in an awkward state.
Nearly five years after a renovation was stopped mid-stride, village trustees will once again consider renovating police headquarters, located on Lakeview Parkway just off Townline Road. A presentation will be made during the Jan. 8 board meeting.
Village Manager Mike Allison could not comment on how much this recent project might cost, but said most of the work would involve reconstructing the interiors of the two police department buildings, and replacing one of the roofs.
Connecting the two buildings is also an option, but Police Chief Mark Fleischhauer said doing so would reduce the parking lot and its accessibility.
The second building, which came during the 2007 attempted renovation, is actually in good shape and only needs walls partitioned to fit the designated uses. Most of the work, Fleischhauer said, will be done to the original building that was opened in 1992.
“This building is only 20-years-old, but it’s used 24 hours a day, so it’s the equivalent of being 45 years old,” Fleischhauer said. “We’ve also outgrown it.”
To accommodate new needs in 2000 after annexing the Cuneo properties and other land along Route 45, the village hired more law enforcement staff even though the police station was not designed for growth.
By 2006, staff knew it was unavoidable and commissioned several expansion studies.
“The original plan was to add onto this building but it was cost prohibitive, and the foundation of this building was never meant to accommodate a second story,” Fleischhauer said. “It would have been cheaper to tear this building down and start all over.”
On a whim, Allison called American Family Insurance, which neighbored the police station.
“Ironically, when we called them up, they were thinking of vacating,” Allison said. “Once in a while, things in life end up synchronizing. It really worked out well for everyone involved.”
The communications, records and social services departments, as well as the auxiliary property storage and workout rooms were moved into the new building in 2007 while their original spaces were rehabbed.
A state-of-the art communications center was constructed in the new building, to accommodate Fleischhauer’s goal of creating a regional police and fire dispatch center.
The 2008 recession, however, put an end to the rehab project and police services remained cramped and displaced.
As society changed in the last decade, the female presence in the police department grew and personnel now face daily challenges.
When the police station opened in 1992, now-Commander Diane Wesly was the only female officer. Consequently, a women’s locker room was built with just a handful of lockers and one shower.
Vernon Hills now has seven female police officers, one female community service officer and 12 female telecommunication specialists — all sharing the locker room.
The men’s locker room houses a maintenance locker and the building’s only gun cleaning station.
“If female officers need to clean their guns, which is a routine process, they have to ask for the locker room to be cleared out,” Fleischhauer said. “That’s not efficient or fair to anyone.”
The 11-person investigations department is located in a space designed for four people. Throughout the years, extra desks were placed along the walls.
With approximately 35 people in the building at all times, Fleischhauer said the department has outgrown its eight-person lunchroom.
“We have to eat in a couple of shifts,” Fleischhauer said.
The building has an atrium that neighbors both the lunchroom and investigations. Fleischhauer said it leaks heat and air conditioning, wasting energy and making staff uncomfortable. He said that atrium will be demolished and both neighboring rooms will be expanded.
Similarly, the detention cells will get a new doorway that leads to investigations, so detectives won’t have to escort prisoners through heavily traveled hallways.
“If this gets approved, we’ll finally be complete,” Fleischhauer said. “Officers won’t have to share desks anymore and people who work together will be in the same buildings.”