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Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Architect Begins on New Cape May Police Station

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By Vince Conti

CAPE MAY – City council passed a resolution Sept. 6 awarding a contract to Robert J. Conley as Special Project Architect for a new municipal police station. Conley is already under contract with the city for the new fire station under construction on Franklin Street.
The city is in process of obtaining .14 acres of Green Acres land from the state at the corner of St. Johns and Lafayette streets. The site is currently used as a dog park. The city hopes to swap almost five acres of East Cape May undeveloped land adjacent to the Sewell Tract for the small parcel on Lafayette Street.
If the swap is approved, the five acres at the Sewell Tract would enter the Green Acres program and the much smaller Lafayette parcel would be removed. Land in the Green Acres program may not be developed. 
The state Department of Environmental Protection held a required Public Scope Hearing on April 18 to get public feedback on the proposed swap. Although the city expects approval of the swap, the land designated as the site for the new police station is not yet under city control. 
In April, the city adopted a $5 million bond ordinance for the police station project. That move gives the municipality flexibility to move quickly to borrow the money when the project schedule begins. The city will have 18 months to use the funds. 
In the Sept. 6 resolution, the governing body specified that Conley is only being given authorization to begin the first two phases of the design. The city will only pay $80,000 of the $368,000 bid Conley submitted for the full design. The city is reserving the right to cancel the project if it unexpectedly fails to secure the Lafayette Street site from the state. 
The Sept. 6 resolution specifically references the Lafayette Street location as the site of the new facility even as it acknowledges that negotiations with the state have not concluded. 
Deputy Mayor Stacy Sheehan has opposed what she terms a “rush” to begin the design prior to securing the site. She was the sole dissenter in a 4 to 1 vote on the contract award. 
Police Chief Dekon Fashaw has repeatedly underscored the need for new space for the city’s police department and has favored the Lafayette Street site. Cape May’s police department also provides services to West Cape May and Cape May Point.
In 2020 the city’s voters were presented with two ballot referendums asking if they supported a combined public safety building for fire and police on Franklin Street or separate facilities with the fire station on Franklin and the police station at a then-undetermined site. 
The issue was a major campaign topic between then-Mayor Clarence Lear who supported the combined facility and his opponent, current Mayor Zack Mullock, who favored separate locations. 
Residents voted for two separate locations which carried a lower projected cost than the combined facility. Mullock defeated Lear in the same election. 
With the firehouse under construction and a police station at least in the early stages of design, members of council up for reelection in 2022 will be able to argue they fulfilled their promise to the voters.
Thoughts or information about the new public safety buildings? Email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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