Navigating the maze of exposed wires hanging down from the original tin ceiling in the Saratoga Springs Police Department is an effort in futility.
The multicolored mass twists in every direction possible. Some are phone lines, others are network wires — and all of them are unlabeled and generally unidentifiable.
“It all looked like that,” explains John Catone, the department’s assistant chief, pointing up to an unwieldy jumble hanging overhead in the room that housed the investigations division. “Fifty years worth of additions and changes and everything else.”
The city is now trying to address those problems as it renovates the police station.
Risk and Safety Manager Marylin Rivers likened the wires to “a big pot of spaghetti.” Workers on the building have a different way of describing them: a giant headache.
Workers trying to remove excess wires from the police station unexpectedly clipped off network service to the mayor’s office on Friday. Periodic interruptions have befallen other offices too, as crews gradually unravel the mess presented under each drop ceiling, behind most cabinets and inside every wall.
“There were cabinets here,” Catone said, gesturing to a golf-ball-sized hole drilled into a wall carrying more than a dozen wires between rooms. “No one really knew this was here.”
The monumental chore of removing the wires is among a number of surprises — most of them unwanted — while retrofitting the 143-year-old building and adjacent Department of Public Safety offices in City Hall. Whether a mass of unknown wires or a previously unrealized patch of asbestos, workers are finding something new almost every time they tear into a previously undisturbed section of the project.
“We’re finding something different every time we go through,” he said during a tour of the project Wednesday.
The project hasn’t come cheap. The City Council put up $628,604 for the project last year and then set aside an additional $145,000 in January.
But the work needed to be done to correct the building’s dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous layout. The alternative was to build a new police station — a much more costly measure that garnered little support on the City Council.
“This is going to improve working conditions for everyone here,” said Chris Mathiesen, the commissioner of Public Safety.
City officials figured the complex renovation would encounter some setbacks, but not to the degree the project has experienced so far. And certainly not immediately from the outset.
The original general contractor — Eastern Building & Restoration — walked off the job exactly a month after being awarded the project. The Albany-based construction company folded in Feburary with the asbestos abatement under way and parts of both buildings already dismantled.
The city was fortunately able to bring in Hoosic Valley Contractors — the company that submitted the second-lowest bid of $428,000— to take over the bonded project. The change also was made with little delay, something that required cooperation among all the public and private agencies involved in the renovation.
Unexpected asbestos has posed a significant hassle for workers. Floor tiles and even the glue affixing some of the building’s tacky wood paneling has required abatement.
Workers also uncovered networks of heating pipe wrapped in friable asbestos — the type posing the greatest health hazard during abatement. The frequent discoveries have kept the state Department of Labor and asbestos abatement crews on speed dial.
For all involved though, there’s a degree of urgency to get the project done in short order, Catone said. The Spa City police are now working in a gutted station under conditions that fall far short of ideal.
The department’s leadership and investigations unit now are tucked onto two floors of a small three-story building behind the station on Maple Avenue. As a booking area, officers use a makeshift room over the dispatchers that is outfitted with folding tables and temporary benches.
The lockup is still functional for the time being. When work gets to a certain point, however, the cellblock will need to be shut down for a couple weeks, meaning that those needing to be jailed overnight will be taken to the county jail in Milton.
Once completed, the various elements of the police station and public safety offices will have a more logical orientation. The police brass will have offices next to Mathiesen’s staff, while the jail, booking area and investigations unit will be aligned in a manner that will keep detained subjects separated from the department’s other functions.
“This is an investment in this building,” Mathiesen said.