The town of Windermere is welcoming the community to its official grand opening of the new administration, police department and public works facilities at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 7.
HJ High Construction broke ground on the new, state-of-the-art, 11,000-square-foot facilities, designed by Architects Design Group in January 2021.
Now, the facilities are set to open and will aid town staff in safety, security and efficiency, as well as allow the Windermere Police Department to obtain national law enforcement accreditation — all with an ecological focus.
“It’s very exciting,” Town Mayor Jim O’Brien said. “I am really happy we have a facility that allows us to make sure we take care of our No. 1 attribute in our town, and that’s our town staff, our police and our public works staff. We want to take care of those individuals because they take good care of us. The better people that you can have working with you, the better off your town is overall.”
The new buildings have an emphasis on community space with multipurpose community rooms for public meetings, volunteer committees and staff and police training.
“It’s wonderful to get to the point now where residents are going to get to see what is beneficial about these facilities to them and how they can utilize them, and how it’s their town facilities, and it’s much easier to access us,” Public Works Director Tonya Elliott-Moore said.
On the public works side of the facilities, the staff now has a locker room for the first time, fully equipped with showers and safe enough to protect against a natural disaster such as a hurricane.
Other aspects include offices, a conference room, kitchen, protective yard space for the equipment and even a smoker and grills.
The new establishment additionally includes facilities for the police department, with secure parking, bulletproof glass at the entrance, an armory, patrol room with desks, a secure evidence locker complete with a built-in metal cage in the drywall, a lobby, interview rooms, break room and kitchen, and a secure locker room with showers.
The administration portion includes a kitchen and break room, offices, event storage, a conference room and secured record storage.
Although the completed timeline and budgetary success for the project was impressive enough with the continued challenges brought on by the pandemic, the facility goes the extra step by helping to ensure the success of not only the town’s present needs but also its future.
O’Brien said the facilities’ aesthetics were based on input from town residents and municipal building professionals.
Long life-span, efficiency and safety were some of the main topics discussed when it came to semantics.
According to the town, the new facilities are constructed with materials sturdy enough to provide hurricane wind resistance for up to 150 mph and feature backup power sources needed to operate at 100% capacity after a storm or natural disaster.
Town Manager Robert Smith said the town is currently working on a sustainability plan.
“We are an oasis in Central Florida, and we want to make sure that we maintain our tree canopy, the water bodies that are surrounding us; so we do what we can to make sure we are making a difference and hopefully become an example for others to do the same,” he said.
O’Brien said the facilities were designed to save as many large existing live oak trees as possible. The trees provide partial shade and help to lower the direct solar heat gain.
The roof of the administration building was actually adjusted to have a hip to preserve one of the heritage oak trees.
In addition, the facilities utilize highly reflective roof systems to prevent heat transfer, motion-sensor LED lighting, high-performance laminated and insulated clear glazing on windows to help better defend the building’s interior from solar radiation, and an emergency generator fueled by natural gas. The natural gas generator burns cleaner than diesel and avoids the maintenance issues and hazards associated with the storage and use of diesel.
The public restrooms utilize battery-powered electronic sensors on all plumbing fixtures to conserve water and reduce pathogen transfer.
Despite the high technology and security of the new facilities, the town also worked hard to keep the small-town aesthetic and architectural charm of the 2.2-square-mile town of Windermere community.
The mayor said he wanted to ensure the buildings were user friendly and easily accessible for the residents’ needs and purposes.
“We wanted to build something that blended into the community,” he said. “We wanted it to be a very friendly facility that kind of bridged the divide of the past and the future of our town.”
The Windermere Garden Club provided flowering plants surrounding the front of the building and completed the landscaping.
The town even incorporated some of the wood from the old facility in the new facility with the help of residents George Poelker and Tom Stroup.
The transformed wood pieces can be seen in the administration’s conference table and in the tables and portion of the wall in the main entrance hall.
Stephen Withers, who assisted in the facilities, is an architect by trade and helped to research and purchase track systems for the walls, hanging town art accumulated throughout the years in the new buildings.
“It’s been quite a journey to get here, and we’ve learned a lot through the process as far as educating the public on the needs,” Smith said. “If you want that expectation of high quality and care then you have to make an investment, so we did.”
THROUGH THE DECADES
The new facilities come after residents voted through referendum to approve the funding of up to $5.2 million for the new facilities in 2019.
The new facilities are built over the site of the old school complex, open from 1916 to 1968, which also served as a miscellaneous office space. The space then served as the town’s administrative, police and public works offices since 2000.
The new facilities come as a relief, as many staff members said the previous building had thin walls, was outdated, unsafe and even had small rodents or insects that would make their way into the building.
Smith said the previous community room will be demolished within the next two months and will be replaced by the town of Windermere, Healthy West Orange and Rotary pavilion.
The entertainment pavilion is currently in the works and will contain an open stage, concession stand and restroom facilities. Smith said the pavilion is aiming to open in the fall or early next year.
Now, the town will welcome the town’s residents to the grand opening featuring a ribbon-cutting ceremony, guided tours and catering from Dixie Cream Café and Tim’s Wine.
The official program will kick off at 6 p.m. with comments from O’Brien, Smith and Police Chief David Ogden.
“The secret to a small town these days is for it to be small, and we like to be small, but we want to be small and smart, so we need to make good decisions and plan for the future,” O’Brien said. “The facilities that we have utilized for many years, they lasted 50 years or more, and we wanted to ensure that what is built here will serve the town for 50 years or more, as well.”
When: 5 p.m. Thursday, April 7.
Where: 614 Main St.
Information: Click here or email Diane Edwards at [email protected]