The Chesterfield Police Department's Falling Creek station is located in a former barbecue restaurant off Route 60.
As one of the top local government priorities consistently cited by citizens, public safety is in many ways the foundation of why Chesterfield remains a great place to live, work, play and conduct business.
The Community Facilities Bond Plan recognizes that, allocating a total of $81.1 million to the Chesterfield Police Department and Chesterfield Fire and EMS.
If approved by voters on Nov. 8, the 2022 bond referendum package will provide $39.1 million to police and $42 million to Fire and EMS – funding that will enable each agency to complete four much-needed capital projects.
Here’s a breakdown of how that money is budgeted and why the projects are vital to their respective operations:
While the Chesterfield Police Department has evolved over the past three decades into an organization that is now recognized nationally and internationally for best practices in law enforcement, infrastructure is one area in which it lags behind many of its peers.
In addition to its headquarters at the Chesterfield government complex, the police department currently leases space for three substations: one in a former barbecue restaurant off eastern Midlothian Turnpike, one in a strip mall on western Hull Street Road and one in an office building next to a busy Chick-fil-A on Route 10 in Chester.
The referendum funding would provide for the construction of four permanent, standalone stations that are specifically designed for police operations.
“These stations will be strategically located throughout the county to maximize the efficiency of our workforce and to ensure that officers who are coming to the aid of the public are able to do so with minimal disruptions from a logistical standpoint,” said Col. Jeffrey Katz, chief of the Chesterfield Police Department.
“This is not something that, as a county, we’ve done in the past,” he added. “It’s an exciting, new venture in the way we’re resourcing our staff and our efforts.”
One of the new stations will be built on county-owned property along eastern Midlothian Turnpike, as part of the redevelopment of the Spring Rock Green shopping center, and across the street from the Stonebridge mixed-use development. There is $8.8 million budgeted for that project.
Other sites have not been identified, but the three remaining stations generally will be located in Chester, the western Route 360 corridor and the Westchester area near the intersection of Routes 60 and 288. Each is expected to cost $10.1 million.
“As we design these stations and build them throughout the county, we want to make sure there are a couple common features,” Katz said. “One, that they’re readily accessible to the public and easily viewable. We believe we should be omnipresent. And of course, we want those who may be considering making a bad choice to recognize that we’re around.
“We also need to make sure these buildings are secure. As we build them for the next 30-40-50 years, what’s the world going to look like?” he added. “We’ve seen in other places where public safety buildings have been taken over by rogue actors. We don’t want anything disrupting our ability to reach out and help our community.”
Katz also noted that Chesterfield will save money over time by no longer having to pay monthly rent for the use of buildings that were never designed for law enforcement purposes.
“There’s a benefit in owning property that you can invest in as an asset, as opposed to paying for someone else’s asset,” he said. “That’s historically what we’ve done. I think it’s time for a shift in that regard.”
The bond referendum plan allocates $12.3 million to replace Chester Fire and EMS Station 1 with a larger, modern facility.
FIRE AND EMS
If there is a common theme that links the four Fire and EMS projects, it’s the need for additional space to accommodate equipment and staff – both of which have grown significantly along with Chesterfield’s population.
Modern fire apparatus is much longer, taller and wider than when Chester fire station 1 was constructed 60 years ago. The same challenges exist at Ettrick station 12, which has been serving the southeastern Chesterfield village for 92 years.
Back then, fire service was provided exclusively by volunteers. Now Chesterfield Fire and EMS has career firefighters living in those buildings 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Neither station was designed to support a diverse workforce, either.
The referendum allocates $12.3 million apiece to replace those stations and “maintain the standard of Fire and EMS service that citizens have come to expect from our department,” said Assistant Fire Chief James Fitch.
Another $9.3 million and $8.1 million would provide for the renovation and expansion of Clover Hill station 7 and Dutch Gap station 14, respectively. While those stations are not as old, both are called on today to provide a wider array of services to a much larger customer base than either was designed to handle.
“We were knocking on the door of 50,000 calls this past year. When I came to work here 33 years ago, we were probably running in the neighborhood of 10,000 calls [annually],” Fitch said, noting the department’s call rate increased by almost 14% countywide last year.
Chester, Clover Hill and Dutch Gap are three of Chesterfield’s busiest Fire and EMS stations – and Ettrick serves a part of the county that includes the growing Virginia State University.
Chester serves more than 18,000 citizens over an 18-square-mile area. Clover Hill serves approximately 23,000 residents over 14 square miles, while Dutch Gap serves over 9,000 people in a 14-square-mile area along the Route 1 corridor. When school is in session, Ettrick serves about 13,000 residents over eight square miles.
“The county is continuing to grow and our stations are getting busier and busier. It would be a challenge for us to continue delivering the services we need to deliver to the community with buildings that really aren’t sized appropriately,” Fitch added.
The nature of Chesterfield’s residential growth presents its own challenges for Fire and EMS. Until just a few years ago, the county was dominated by single-family homes; now most new construction is townhouses, condominiums and apartments to meet market demand for housing diversity, along with the emerging trend of developments that offer a mix of residential and commercial uses.
To accommodate the increased density associated with multifamily and mixed-use developments containing 3- and 4-story structures, Fire and EMS is seeking a more versatile design for the new and renovated stations so it can add another bay for a new engine, ladder truck or ambulance when needed.
“We’re building in flexibility for the future,” Fitch said. “A lot of the stations we have today, we don’t have the flexibility to add onto them very easily.”