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Jackson police, firefighters returning to complex

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

The floors are a new color, the furniture has changed. Even the smell is different.

But it's still home, and it's good to be back.

That's the sentiment at Jackson's fire and police complex this week as officers unpack from what felt like a nearly 90-day sleepover, said police chief James Humphreys.

A tornado ripped apart the emergency services building May 6 at the corner of Hope Street and Jackson Boulevard. But it is nearly rebuilt, only a few details remain incomplete, and the police side has been fully functional since Friday.

"Looking back, I thought it'd be six months before we'd be back," Humphreys said. "But we've pretty well cut that by half."

The fire department is "within days" of beginning its own move back into its side of the complex, Capt. Steve Grant said.

During the $350,000 renovation, the city made a few changes to the complex. Workers replaced recessed lighting with flat panels to make the hallways brighter, expanded the firefighter bunk room and installed a shower and small laundry room. New drywall partitions created additional office space in the police department.

The city's insurance policy, which had a $1,000 deductible, covered the renovation expenses, city administrator Jim Roach said.

"I think there's probably a new appreciation for that facility than there was before the storm," Roach said. "In some ways, it will be better than before."

Humphreys is especially grateful to Sheriff John Jordan and the county commissioners for providing the office space his department needed in the sheriff department's old building while the complex was being rebuilt, he said. But it was challenging to stay organized while away from home.

"You get a feeling like you're living out of a suitcase," he said. "You never get organized, you're living out of boxes. Every time you needed something, you'd have to make a trip over here to get it or dig through the boxes to find it."

The move home began Thursday, police Capt. Bob Bonney said. Officers spent several days retrieving furniture and equipment from storage units donated by Penzel Construction.

Another significant donation came from Bank of America in Cape Girardeau, which gave several large pieces of used office furniture to the department. The dark, executive-style wooden desks, chairs and cabinets compliment the fresh cream-colored walls, navy-blue trim and carpets.

The donation saved the city thousands, Roach said. At Monday night's board of aldermen meeting, members signed a thank-you letter to the bank.

To show appreciation for the outpouring of help and donations from the community, the fire and police departments are planning an open house and barbecue, Humphreys said. Details will be released soon.

The police department's phone and computer systems are already back online. The building's radio dispatch system should be fully operational for both departments in a few weeks, Roach said.

During the tornado, water destroyed walls, ceilings and wiring. Even the building's backup generator was ruined, Grant said. The fire department's three front bay doors were replaced, along with tracking and motors.

Anything salvageable was moved into the fire department's administrative building, which sits north of the complex. For the interim, the department has been operated entirely from there.

As such, everything was "kind of cramped and tight," Grant said.

The condition of the fire department's annual vegetable garden bothers Grant. In the past, the garden provided a bounty of fresh food for the firefighters, who live at the station while on duty. The tornado tore down a small fence surrounding it, and since then, no one has had much time to tend the corn, tomatoes and other crops.

"The tornado wasn't even a drop in the bucket compared to the damage done by the squirrels," he said. "It'll be easier to take care of once we're back in our quarters."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160


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