By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Drew Rauzan just couldn’t let valuable city-hall office space be occupied solely by towering stacks of old files and ancient filing cabinets, especially when the ever-growing police department still was crammed in its ground-floor station.
So, a few months ago, the police chief scouted out a first-floor office that had been vacated by the city engineer sometime in the late 1980s, then by the divisions of community development and litter control in more- recent years.
The space had many uses until about 15 years ago, Rauzan said, when it became a glorified closet — devoid of people, but full of the debris that accumulates over decades in a city- government building.
That debris had to go.
“City hall has to maintain some records,” Rauzan said. “But with two-year election cycles, sometimes people don’t know what to keep and what to purge.”
Cleanup began in the summer, led by the city’s finance director, Michael Evanson. Half of the room’s files were discarded, while the remaining half were moved to other “nooks and crannies” in city hall, freeing up the office for police- department work, Rauzan said.
But first, the walls had to be painted, and its light fixtures, windows and heating units had to be upgraded. Members of the police department did most of the work themselves, hiring a local electrician, Mark Rosa, when necessary.
Now occupying this office space is the police department’s detective division, consisting of Kevin Sferra and Jeff Pantall, along with Rauzan’s office.
Every member of the police department has a specialized job to do, Rauzan said, and it was unfair for Sferra and Pantall — who require a place where they can concentrate and focus — to contend with the “absolute patrol chaos” occurring only a few feet away from them. He added that the chaos has continued to intensify as the number of officers assigned to patrol duty also increases.
The city’s police department now has about 30 full- and part-time employees, while the city-hall building as a whole has “a fraction of the original staff that was once here in the 1970s and 1980s,” Rauzan noted.
“Why would we subject our detectives when we don’t have to?” Rauzan said. “We are the largest department in the city, and rather than letting these offices go to waste, and be filled with junk, the space will be utilized.”
The detective division may soon move out of its new office space, however, and into another room recently acquired by the police department, which is being redone as the city’s fitness center and the police department’s training center.
The current space just might be too big for two detectives, Rauzan said, adding that he hasn’t yet “figured out what the best fit is.”
Much like the first-floor office space, this ground-floor room — previously used as the city’s fitness center, albeit under the management of the fire department — has been updated, receiving a fresh coat of paint and new fixtures. Rauzan said he’s hopeful it will soon also have commercial-quality cardio and free-weight setups.
“It has always been one of my goals to get an in-house training and fitness facility,” he said. “Most city employees will have access to it. We can also compel officers to train, and encourage them to work out in their free time.”
The renovations were funded by money netted during drug seizures. Though the money can’t result in any “personal financial benefit for any police officer,” Rauzan said, it can go toward capital improvements, for example.
In November alone, the police department took in about $20,000 through these drug seizures — and used only about $7,000 from that fund to renovate both spaces in city hall.
Sgt. John Rusnak explained that in the 40-some years since city hall’s construction, “a lot of changes” have occurred, particularly the expansion of the police department. It simply outgrew its original space.
Now, both the new office space for the detective division — which provides “more privacy and discretion” for its operations — and the training center — which gives officers “24-hour access to a place that is very convenient” — allow the police department to “operate at a much more functional level,” Rusnak said.
“It’s very forward-thinking,” he said. “All the changes that [Rauzan] is making are positive, and they benefit the police department greatly.”