NORWOOD – August 9- Nearly two months have passed since five feet of water inundated the basement of the police station during a torrential June rainstorm. The soaked furniture, files, and paneling have been removed, crucial records are being restored by a special freeze-drying process, the detective bureau, safety officer and internal affairs officer have moved to renovated offices two blocks down Nahatan Street from the station. A musty odor still lingers in the empty basement, but it is faint.
The larger issue, however, remains unresolved. Will the flood waters turn out to be the event that finally prompts construction of a much-debated new station?
The answer is likely to come at a special Town Meeting eyed for sometime this fall. Town Manager John Carroll and a search committee are looking at possible sites for either a new police station or combination police and fire station and hope to have a proposal ready in the fall. Among sites under consideration are the former Stop & Shop property at Railroad Avenue and Central Street, the former Telco site at the Nahatan Street rotary over Route 1, and the town-owned Hennessey Field at Lenox and Cross Streets, Carroll said.
When sites and potential cost are debated, they will have a familiar ring. Just this spring, Town Meeting soundly voted down funding to plan for a new $7.8 million station at the existing location, which is shared by the Fire and Police departments.
But the floods made the Board of Selectmen realize a new station at a new location is a must, said Selectwoman Susan McQuaid. “We absolutely will have a new station,” she said. “We could never subject officers to that again.”
In the past, she said, the selectmen leaned toward renovating and expanding the existing facility, but the pressure to do even that was not intense because it was believed drainage work in recent years had eased the flooding threat.
Built in 1963 on the site of a drained pond, the station basement and the rear parking lot have been prone to flooding from the beginning. Both the fire and police portions of the basement have taken in water, but the fire section, used as a garage, typically has sustained minimal damage, while the police side, which until June housed offices, the women’s locker room, roll call room and firing range, has been hit harder.
“We learned not to use the bottom drawers of filing cabinets,” said Detective Sergeant William Brooks.
Over the years, various drainage improvements helped a little, and with the construction two years ago of a large rainwater retention area, flooding was supposed to be a phenomenon of the past. The retention basin did work, so well in fact, that detectives fell out of the habit of placing lower file drawers on top of their desks when heavy rain was forecast, Brooks said.
Then came the downpours of June 13. It rained so hard the retention area drains were overwhelmed and water began lapping at the rear doors to the police offices. Brooks was at home when he got a message from the station, phrased appropriately enough in nautical terminology. “We’re taking on water,” Brooks was told.
Brooks, Chief Bartley King, Lieutenant Kevin McDonough, and Officers Elaine Kougias and Dean Raymond were knee-deep in water, lifting evidence files to desktops when they got a radio message from outside. The pressure of the floodwaters had buckled the exterior metal garage doors and water was gushing into the basement. The only thing holding back a five-foot wall of water was a hallway door, which was acting as a dam, but not a very solid one.
“It was not a life-threatening situation, but we began to look for a way out,” Brooks said. All three exit doors were blocked and the only escape was through a three-foot by two-foot window. To get out, they had to pry off the window frame with a screwdriver. The squeeze was a bit tight, at least according to the inevitable but anonymous stationhouse jokes.
The water floated desks across rooms, ruined computers, records, and telephones. For hours, the main police telephone number was out of service. Only 911 calls could get through because the wiring for that system is upstairs in the station. Outside, some of the cars in the parking lot were submerged.
As the waters receded, the stench was so bad that cleanup crews had to wear masks. In all, the damage was estimated at $500,000, all but $25,000 of which was covered by insurance, Carroll said.
For several weeks, detectives were working mainly out of their cars, using cellular telephones and beepers. Temporary space was made available downstairs in the town-owned Civic Center.
Renovating and furnishing the new police annex was done at no charge by Corporate Software and Technology, a software reseller and service provider that moved from Westwood to Norwood a year ago.
Despite the new offices, having some police officers working in separate quarters from the station would not be a good permanent solution, Brooks said. Communication with the rest of the department suffers, he said. And for detectives, the Civic Center location is too casual, too associated with the recreational uses of the rest of the building. Usually, people are hanging around on the benches outside, “Wouldn’t have informants come in here, the entrance is too public,” Brooks said.