The New Paltz Justice Courts and Chambers just took a major step up to the east side of town. This week, Town supervisor Neil Bettez and New Paltz Police chief Robert Lucchesi took Hudson Valley One on a tour of the new courts and police station, both located on North Putt Corners Road in a repurposed old wine distribution warehouse.
When the NPPD moved from its cramped quarters below the current justice court location on Plattekill Avenue in the Village, it rented a building off South Putt Corners Road, near New Paltz High School. At the same time, the Town Hall off Route 32 North was considered “sick” with black mold. That building was leveled, forcing the Town offices to move to temporary trailers out by the Town recycling center, County transfer station and Highway Department garage on Clearwater Road.
The Town has been homeless, the NPPD renting, the Fire Department located in two places with lack of space for their trucks, training and offices, and the local courts have been considered to be insufficient in terms of size, accessibility and safety. There has been talk for decades of one joint municipal facility that could house all of the emergency service departments and the Town and Village government offices; but instead, each agency splintered off – at least, until now.
For the NPPD, “Every year, the price of the rent was going up,” said Bettez, as he and Chief Lucchesi and Highway Department superintendent Chris Marx unloaded oak court benches that had just arrived inside of the new courthouse. They were aided by Kathy Preston, confidential secretary to the supervisor. As cardboard boxes were torn open and benches slung around, Bettez said, “We were almost at $100,000 a year for rent, and their ten-year lease was up this August.” In the hunt for a new location and with all of the other Town/Village facility needs in mind, the supervisor said it was their engineer, Andy Willingham (also joining in the bench-slinging and box-flattening), who noticed the Wine World building for sale. “What I’ve learned in all of this is that it’s much cheaper to redo a building than to build one from scratch.” The Town purchased the warehouse, which sits on a 14.3-acre parcel of land, for a little over $1.3 million.
Aided by a Building Committee that included Matt Eyler and Marty Irwin, as well as the engineer and architects from Alfandre and Associates, the Town decided to turn the 17,000-square-foot warehouse into a permanent home for its police force and justice department. The total pricetag for the project is not yet in, but Supervisor Bettez believes it will be close to $8 million and will be funded by a 20-year bond.
Some of the benefits, besides added space, include the fact that the Police Department and Justice Courts will now be located a stone’s throw from the New Paltz Fire Department’s new building (currently under new construction at the corner of Henry W. Dubois and North Putt Corners Road) and the New Paltz Rescue Squad offices just to the north of it. “It’s great to have all of our emergency service providers right next to each other,” said the chief, who noted that the NPPD offices are fully operational, with only some “punch-list items” left to suture things up.
The public can now enter the main doors; to their right will be the entrance to the Police Department and to their left, the entrance to the courtroom. Supervisor Bettez explained that a metal detector will be installed and pointed to the three small, private conference rooms that were created for clients and their attorneys to meet or for a special prosecutor to meet with a defense attorney, all within view of the courtroom. There are now a series of wooden benches, “instead of the plastic chairs that we had zip-tied together so that people couldn’t throw them,” noted the supervisor. “I think the benches will be too heavy to throw.”
The Town justices have seats that preside high above the court, with ample room for a witness on one side and the court clerk on the other side of the justice’s bench. Local woodworker Josh Finn is creating a table with boat-shaped sides and a rectangular center that can be split apart for the defense and prosecution tables and then put back together for municipal boards and committees to meet. There is a jury room and offices for the two justices and their clerks, as well as a break room.
The supervisor was quick to point out that “This is only a courtroom twice a week [on Tuesdays and Wednesdays]. It’s going to be a municipal space the rest of the week.” Bettez noted that when the old Town Hall was demolished, the Town’s various civic boards – Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Environmental Commission et cetera – did not have a place to meet, so they began meeting in the Town’s Community Center, located behind the old Town Hall site on Veterans’ Drive. “That displaced a lot of the community groups that were doing their Zumba classes or aerobics or birthday parties, and we want to give that space back to the community for their events and classes.” To that end, the supervisor plans to host most of the public meetings in the new courthouse. There is ample room for those who sit on the boards, their hired experts and the public all to convene in one spot.
From the courthouse, HV1 was led back out into the hallway, where Bettez pointed to a series of male/female/family restrooms. “People in attendance can step outside this door to utilize the restrooms or get a drink of water and then reenter the door with the metal detector,” he explained. “The design and layout of the court and the offices are all in compliance with the New York State Office of Court Administration. We also received feedback from the court clerks and justices.”
“It adds another level of safety to have the police and the courts under the same roof,” said Lucchesi, who has worked in all three NPPD locations. “It’s also helpful from a logistical standpoint. These two departments work together, and if an officer needs to be at court, they just walk down the hall, rather than having to take a car. There’s also a lot of paperwork that goes back and forth, and processing, and this just makes that all more efficient.” For arraignments, this setup will eliminate the need for the NPPD to transport someone in custody to another location to be arraigned.
The chief leads HV1 through the new reception area, where there’s a high glass window and a secure metal drawer that both serve as the secure portal for dispatch to talk, deliver or receive something from the public. Past the dispatchers’ offices is an interview room that needs to be inspected and certified by the Office of Court Administration, as juveniles need to be kept separate by law. The chief and the supervisor point out that there was “no new furniture purchased,” and that their contractors actually took a lot of the existing countertops, doors, desks and windows and retrofitted them from the leased space into the new space, to save the costs of new materials.
There are two non-juvenile interview rooms with a glass barrier between the handcuffed bench and the processing officer. One of the barriers was shattered from a DWI suspect kicking it in. “We’re working on getting that repaired,” said the chief, who pointed to another room that would allow for three separate spaces for interviews and/or processing to take place. “A lot of times we’ll have a defendant, a victim and a witness all, and this enables us to keep them separated.”
There is an ample storage room – something the chief said they’ve needed – an evidence room and a laboratory where they can process DWIs, as well as do fingerprinting. There’s a roll-call room where officers can grab their bodycams, weapons, AED and DWI kits before heading out onto the road.
Upstairs is completely secured and can only be accessed by the administrative branch of the NPPD. There is a detective’s office, a lieutenant’s office and the chief’s office. Beyond that is a large conference room where they will hold in-person trainings, debriefings and press conferences. “If there is a major incident that involves multiple law enforcement agencies, this can serve as our command post,” said the chief.
There is also a weight room, which the supervisor quickly noted was “moved from the old building and is all equipment that the officers purchased themselves.” There are separate women’s and men’s locker rooms for the officers, as well as a break room.
Asked if the public is getting used to the new location, the chief said, “We’re doing our best to continue to advertise it and alert the public, and I think people are starting to realize that we’re here now.”
Outside the new NPPD and Justice Court location are a large parking lot and a retention pond, and various charging stations are being put in for electric vehicles. “We have all the wiring [in the police parking area] for electric vehicles, in case we’re able to transition to an electric fleet,” said the chief. There is also an outdoor caged area for impounding vehicles and a sally port where a law enforcement officer can pull up and transport a defendant for court or for arraignment.
Bettez also mentioned that the equipment had arrived for a small on-site playground, donated by Kathy and George Sifre. “It’s wonderful to have another public playground for kids, especially on this side of town,” said the supervisor, pointing out that there are children whose parents do custody exchanges at the Police Department, so that it’s a neutral and safe environment if they’re not on great terms. There are times this is mandated by the courts. He said it would make “a difficult situation a little less stressful for kids if there was a playground there.”
Both Chief Lucchesi and Bettez praised the work of the project manager, Tom Chesser of the Palumbo Group of Poughkeepsie, and Darlind Associates of Lagrangeville, who served as the general contractor. “I realize we did this entire thing on time, under budget during COVID, and that’s due to an amazing group of contractors and workers who did such an incredible job.” Bettez noted that the Town Highway Department also “saved us thousands of dollars by doing all of the site-prep clearing and grading work.”
As for the fate of the court building that adjoins the Village Hall, Bettez said that the architects are currently doing an “assessment of the space” to see if Town Hall staff could move in next to their Village government neighbors. “It would be great if the Town and Village offices could be next to each other,” said Bettez. “That would be the first step towards sharing services!” The Town owns the portion of the building that houses the courts and the old Police Department, and the Village owns the other half.
According to Bettez, the courts could be operational any time they choose to move in. “That’s a decision that the court clerks will have to make.”