The federal government has agreed to give Nassau County $27 million in grants to build new police station houses in Hewlett and Bethpage to replace existing buildings that officials say are outdated and vulnerable to major storms.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery will allocate $12 million to replace the Fourth Precinct facility in Hewlett with a two-story, 25,000-square-foot station house, according to a request for proposals issued by the county this month.
HUD also will provide $15.6 million to build a three-story, 30,600-square-foot station house for the Eighth Precinct in Bethpage, which became a lower-staffed community policing center in 2012 as part of a countywide precinct consolidation. Nassau must contribute another $4.4 million.
Acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said the existing station houses were built in the late 1950s and are "undersized" and "dilapidated."
Officers often must use file rooms to meet with suspects and crime victims and the buildings offer limited ability to videotape interrogations or interviews, Krumpter noted.
"The buildings are antiquated and grossly inadequate for the department's needs," he said.
The county applied for funds to build the new station houses through a federal program that distributes money to repair and harden facilities damaged by superstorm Sandy. While the two station houses sustained significantly less damage than other county facilities during Sandy, officials defend the projects.
The Fourth Precinct station house, which was closed due to a mandatory South Shore evacuation, lost 30 feet of roofing shingles while two police booths outside the main building were damaged by wind and falling debris.
The Eighth Precinct station house remained open during Sandy, serving as a backup to the Fourth and the Seventh Precinct facilities in Seaford -- which sustained major flooding -- but high winds blew out windows and a power outage forced officers to use a power generator.
County officials justified the use of Sandy funds for the projects, arguing in their grant application that the existing stations cannot withstand severe storms because of their age. The new buildings will be elevated and hardened to withstand heavy winds, Krumpter said.
While Hewlett and Bethpage -- County Executive Edward Mangano's hometown -- are GOP strongholds, county spokesman Brian Nevin said the Fourth and Eighth precincts were selected for work "based on the age of facilities."
Nassau plans to use county funds to replace the Seventh, the county's oldest precinct, next month. Construction of the First Precinct, in Democratic-led Baldwin, will be finished early next year, Krumpter said.
HUD spokesman Charles McNally said the funding allows grantees such as Nassau "the flexibility both to rebuild damaged infrastructure and housing, and to increase long-term resilience by hardening critical facilities against future threats."
Nassau plans to borrow its $4.4 million portion of the Eighth Precinct costs. The borrowing must be approved by the GOP-controlled county legislature and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board in control of the county's finances.
A spokeswoman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the GOP caucus has not been briefed on the projects and declined to comment. Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Democrats would likely support the measure "to enhance public safety" in Nassau.
NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said replacing the aging precinct station houses appears "to be a necessary use" of county funds.
Construction of the two precincts' station houses would begin in October and be complete by June 2017.
Krumpter said the Eighth will not be restored to a fully staffed precinct and will continue as a community policing center. The Second Precinct in Woodbury has absorbed most of the Eighth's staff.
The department will instead relocate to the Eighth specialized police units that are now spread across the county, Krumpter said. They include the electronics squad, which manages wiretaps, as well as the major case and robbery squads.
Mangano merged Nassau's eight precincts into four in 2012 to save a projected $20 million in annual costs by eliminating about 100 nonuniformed employees.
Krumpter said construction of the new precincts does not represent a policy reversal.
"We're looking at using these facilities in a different way than in the past," he said, citing the efficiency of moving the specialized units under one roof.
Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver, a critic of the precinct consolidation plan, called the construction projects "an acknowledgment that station houses play an important role in department policy."