No place like home: Douglas County Sheriff's Office opens doors at permanent location
Welcome to the new, long-awaited, Douglas County Sheriff's Office. County residents were greeted by sheriff's office staff as they hurried through the front doors and stomped snow off of their feet before emerging into the redesigned lobby.
An estimated 100 people attended the open house held Tuesday, January 22 for the public to view improvements to the old school building on 7th Avenue West in Alexandria.
Had Jack Frost not been out in full force sprinkling sub-zero temperatures across Minnesota, the turnout would likely have been greater. The smell of new carpet and paint wafted through the halls as rosy-cheeked citizens traipsed along on cellophane-lined walkways.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office staff will all be under one roof for the first time since the summer of 2011. Investigators, administration and deputies planned to move in on Thursday and Friday; by February 1 the entire office will be operating out of the new building.
"Now we're back home," said Chief Deputy Brad Lake.
Previously, visitors walked into an open vestibule that led them straight to the dispatch window - where emergency situations were being handled. Now, during regular business hours, people will be greeted by records staff during the week. After hours and on weekends, a phone in the entry will connect citizens with a dispatcher who can grant access to the secure building.
Sheriff Troy Wolbersen said the new configuration is a huge advantage because dispatchers can acknowledge someone seeking help in person and not be distracted from an emergency call.
"The result will be better customer and better public service," Wolbersen said.
Dispatcher Donna Roemmich said the new dispatch center has more room, better equipment and an added benefit, "We'll all be together."
The evidence processing room has also improved. In addition to more counter space, there is a device that prevents particulates from contaminating the air, a contained drying compartment and a sealed area for freezing evidence. More room is also available for evidence storage.
"Storage is one thing that we did not have enough of in the old building," Wolbersen said.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota State Patrol and Department of Corrections will join the sheriff's office in moving out of temporary spaces into the central locale.
"It's really an entire government services project," Lake said. He added that although the police department is located across from the new jail now, the building in downtown Alexandria is still a law enforcement center.
An emergency operations center is equipped with flat-panel monitors, projector screens, dry erase and cork boards and tables with Internet connections for visiting agencies. Wolbersen said multiple agencies can work together on major incidents from one location. Additional conference rooms have been included for specialized investigations.
A lot of new elements have been purchased for the revamped office. Wolbersen said the improvements to the building, new equipment and furniture are all designed to help the sheriff's office better serve the public and law enforcement personnel now and into the future.
"Everything is designed with the next person in mind," Wolbersen said. "My office is the sheriff's office, I won't be the sheriff forever."
How much did it cost the county and taxpayers? A total cost won't be calculated until final bills are received and all work is completed.
If you missed Tuesday's open house, a guided tour can be given upon request by calling the sheriff's office at (320) 762-8151.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.