You can get a sneak peek of the new Bluffton law enforcement center before the April 28 ribbon-cutting when Bluffton Town Council hosts its annual retreat Saturday. The meeting will be in a conference room at the center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Council members and staff will discuss goals, achievements and proposed initiatives, with citizen input and a question-and-answer session beginning at 11:45 a.m.
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After several days of rain, the carpet in Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister's office is soaked.
But after next week, he won't have to hear the squishing underfoot.
The Police Department is preparing to move to its new headquarters at Buckwalter Place, where the dry, shiny floors will greet the department's 42 employees.
Besides shelter from the elements, the new center will feature advanced technology and enhanced safety controls, McAllister said.
On Thursday, workers installed blinds and handled other finishing touches in the lobby, beneath the first brushstrokes of a Bluffton-themed mural by local artist Nancy Mitchell.
Officers will start moving in Thursday, marking the end of the $6.3 million project, whose groundbreaking was June 24.
The town issued bonds in 2008 to pay for the design and construction.
The building is nearly 20,000 square feet, compared to the 6,000 square feet of rented space on Persimmon Street the department now occupies. Until it grows, the police department will share the new space with the town's Information Technology/Geographic Information System Department. Three conference rooms can be reserved by other town staff for meetings. The town's annual strategic planning retreat, for example, will be there Saturday.
"After this last census, we see where the growth is coming and instead of building (the center) piecemeal, we built it to last for the next 30 to 40 years," Mayor Lisa Sulka said. "It is going to be well-used."
The areas reserved for law enforcement officers house numerous technological features new to the department.
A laser fingerprinting machine sits near three holding cells that can hold four inmates each -- an upgrade from the cage at the current headquarters. The technology will allow officers to take prints and booking photographs after minor arrests instead of driving to a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office substation, McAllister said.
In the advanced evidence-processing room is a secured cabinet for drying wet evidence before sending it to a DNA lab. When McAllister's officers used to pick up evidence soiled with blood or other fluids, they would have to dry it on a rack for several days, risking contamination. At the push of a button, the cabinet can do the job in a few hours.
An airtight fingerprint machine, which heats chemicals to detect fingerprints when powder can't be used, will replace a fish tank sealed with duct tape.
Other features that will make for better criminal investigations include video cameras and audio recorders activated by motion sensors in interrogation rooms.
Safety enhancements such as a sally port where officers can unload detainees in a secure garage instead of in an open parking lot will help separate different people in the center.
"Some of our customers want a report; others are in handcuffs," McAllister said. The building is designed so the two won't mix in the halls or lobby.
As officers cart boxes over next week, town information technology staff will also be moving all of the town's computer servers to the new building.
McAllister said the building's new occupants will get acclimated before hosting a grand opening April 28.
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