Last week the Port Washington Police District's board of commissioners...

Last week the Port Washington Police District's board of commissioners approved the purchase of the former Austin F. Knowles Funeral Home, pictured Monday, and six nearby homes for $8.8 million, with the intention of building a new $30 million police headquarters on the site. Credit: Howard Simmons

The Port Washington Police District  will make a $8.8 million land purchase with the intention of building a new multimillion-dollar police headquarters that district officials said is vital to ensuring efficient law enforcement operations in the future.

“If we don’t move into another building, we just can’t handle it," Police Chief Robert Del Muro said in an interview Tuesday, speaking about keeping up the department's duties.

At a Nov. 8 meeting, the police district’s three-member board of commissioners approved the purchase of the former Austin F. Knowles Funeral Home on Main Street and six nearby homes on Webster and Mackey avenues from the same family using $8.8 million from the district's capital reserve accounts. They expect to close the sale in mid-December.

District commissioners Brian Staley, Angela Lawlor Mullins and JB Meyer  voted 3-0 in favor of the spending.

"When we were able to talk with the Knowles family, they gave us an opportunity to get, quite frankly, a once-in-a-lifetime piece of property to be able to center the headquarters right in the middle of town," Meyer said in an interview Tuesday. 

District officials have estimated the new structure — about a mile from existing headquarters — would cost the district another $30 million, money they hope to raise with bonding. They hired Melville-based H2M architects + engineers to develop a plan and provide a cost estimate. 

Since the police district is a special district within the Town of North Hempstead, district officials said they must get town board members' approval for the bonding and hope to do so in the spring.

Brian Devine, a spokesman for Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, said the special district would present the town with a proposal that includes an engineer's report — with a cost estimate and projected schedule — and an environmental impact view. 

A public hearing would be held before the town board would consider whether to approve the bonding and a referendum would be held for residents to vote on the bonding if there's significant public opposition, Devine added.

 Del Muro said the department considered other locations but decided the former funeral home and surrounding properties provided the best central location.

 “We looked at some places, but none worked out as well as Knowles,” the chief added.  

The department has 63 sworn police officers and more than 80 employees in all, including crossing guards and dispatchers, according to Meyer. 

Del Muro said the current headquarters has become too cramped, with not enough lockers for officers, not enough parking and the custodian and information technology department forced to share the same building space.

Built in 1958, the building was designed for 35 people, district officials said.

 Officials said the plan for new building includes more space for officers, an elevator, community rooms for meetings and more parking.  

Port Washington Park Civic Association president Steven Catrone said the proposal is a “win-win” because it puts police in the “heart of the community” and doesn’t add more apartment buildings to the area.

But longtime Port Washington resident Steven Kaplan said the price is “way too high” and the district should consider alternatives before buying properties without a final plan.

“I think it’s ill-conceived,” he said. “What’s the cost going to be? What does that do to the taxpayers?”

 Del Muro said the district is planning community meetings to address questions.  

The district has about 25,000 residents and Del Muro estimated officers respond to more than 9,000 calls annually.

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