Town residents and officials celebrated a new beginning for the town with the groundbreaking of its municipal complex Jan. 11.
Donning white hard hats and holding gold-colored shovels, Windermere staff and leaders turned the dirt on a new era for the community.
Jan. 11 was a big day for a small town, Mayor Jim O’Brien said, as the groundbreaking ceremony for the brand-new town facilities and police department began.
For years, Windermere’s town offices operated out of buildings originally built as a schoolhouse in 1916. Those buildings were converted to town offices 20 years ago and served as home base for the town’s police department, administrative department, public works office and commercial rental space.
The century-old buildings were demolished in October 2020, clearing the way for the new government facilities and police department. The new municipal complex has been in the works for years, and in 2019, the town received approval to borrow up to $5.2 million for the project.
“Ten years ago almost exactly to this date, we found our town of Windermere at crossroads — a crossroads that occurred because at times we failed to invest in the most important resources for any successful enterprise: people,” O’Brien said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “When we worked to rebuild our leadership staff and our police department, we knew that having the right people and the right tools was vital to the success and future of our community. We understood that building for the long haul would require a long-term vision and a commitment to professionalism, integrity and transparency.
“Today’s groundbreaking is more than a building,” he said. “It’s about our town’s next 50 years — a commitment to service for all, for our entire community, in good times and in bad.”
The process to get to this point required the input from and trust of various community stakeholders — from town residents and leaders to staff and elected officials. It took years of meetings, workshops, renderings, community-input sessions and guidance from town engineers to create and manifest a vision for the future.
Included among those credited with their efforts toward bringing the project to life are former Town Council members Molly Rose, Richard Gonzalez, Richard Montgomery and John Armstrong; current Town Council members Bill Martini, Robert “Bob” McKinley, Liz Andert, Chris Sapp and Loren “Andy” Williams; former Mayor Gary Bruhn; O’Brien; Police Chief Dave Ogden; Town Manager Robert Smith; and town engineers Stephen Withers and John Fitzgibbon.
“Today’s groundbreaking is more than a building. It’s about our town’s next 50 years — a commitment to service for all, for our entire community, in good times and in bad.” — Jim O’Brien, mayor, town of Windermere
“It’s that community support and understanding where we want to be, that we want to be small but smart, and that we want to make sure we build a future so that your children can live in the town of Windermere just like I want my children to live in the town of Windermere,” O’Brien told residents. “Without your support and confidence in our efforts and leadership, none of this would be possible.”
Creative Environmental Services was responsible for the demolition work, while H.J. High Construction is the contractor for the new facilities. Construction is expected to take 10 to 12 months.
The new, 11,000-square-foot complex maintains the town’s character while providing a safe and secure space for town staff and the police department. The police department will span 5,445 square feet, the town administration building will be 3,000 square feet, and the public works building will be 2,554 square feet. The police and administration buildings will be connected by a common lobby area.
Currently, the police department and administration offices have a temporary home at Fifth Avenue and Forest Street, while public works is operating out of temporary facilities by the 1887 schoolhouse parking lot.
“It took a lot of time from staff and elected officials to get this thing approved, and it took a lot … from the residents, as well,” Smith said. “From the first elections to the second referendums, coming up with certain renderings that we can compromise on, agree upon and something that will last for 50 to 75 years … that’s a testament to the dedication that not only the elected officials have to this community, but also the staff.”
The new facilities also will pave the way for another major accomplishment — achieving accreditation for the Windermere Police Department.
It’s a goal Ogden and his team have been working toward since his tenure began in 2013, and it will soon become a reality.
“As 2020 came to a close, I reflected on our past successes, our unique challenges that the Windermere Police Department faced over the years, and a positive vision that we have for our future,” Ogden said. “As I cross into my eighth year as your chief of police, there’s tremendous evidence of the fruit of our labor which has been successful due to the character of our team. Acquiring this new facility undoubtedly will be seen as evidence of that success and our legacy.
“With a real, security-level police department, we will ascertain accreditation measures,” he said. “Our motto when I came here was change — to honor integrity and service — and I believe above anything else the level of service that this police department offers to the town residents of our Windermere is why we got this (new) police department.”
Before breaking ground, O’Brien presented council members and some town staff with a special gift created by Withers — a block of heart pine from the 1916 schoolhouse, each with an engraved nameplate.
He added that upon the completion of the new complex, there will be a special dedication in memory of fallen Windermere Police Officer Robbie German.
“I also want to thank the residents of the town of Windermere,” Smith said. “You trusted us, you believed in us, and we will not fail you. We’ll make sure that we design and operate a functional government office the way that it should be.”