Projects Aim To Build Up City's Image

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 5, 2006

The makeover of Fairfax City is about to take another leap with the unveiling of a police headquarters and an addition to City Hall, both scheduled to open in early December.

The buildings, approved by voters in a $20 million bond referendum in 2001, are designed to improve access and services to Fairfax's 20,000 residents and bolster the functionality and work environment for city employees. Fairfax City police operate out of an old elementary school, with former storage closets used to hold evidence. One was even pressed into service as an office for an investigator.

Next year, the city plans to open a library and a large shopping and business center, both under construction. To accommodate those, Fairfax in August restored two-way traffic to its downtown for the first time since 1972, another of the city's dramatic changes.

In addition, the city is renovating Fairfax High and Lanier Middle schools from bond money approved in 2004. The high school is slated for completion next year and Lanier in 2008.

"It's an unprecedented time," said Fairfax Mayor Robert F. Lederer. He noted that the projects were launched before he and much of the City Council were in office and that current officials are merely "carrying out the will of the community."

"We're very fortunate as a city that we have the resources and we have the citizens who want a first-class city. It is truly an amazing makeover," Lederer said.

The City Hall addition and the police headquarters were bid as a single project. They were designed by Moseley Architects and were first intended for the same City Hall campus along Chain Bridge Road. An uproar over adding the police headquarters to the area resulted in a move -- putting it behind the present police building, which is in the former John C. Wood Elementary School on Old Lee Highway next to Van Dyck Park.

Police Chief Rick Rappoport led a tour that began in the "small, cramped, dingy lobby" of the one-story school that is police headquarters, to the airy atrium of the new two-story building.

"It presents a much more professional image when the public interfaces with us," Rappoport said. "It's a place they can be proud of."

The new building provides officers and detectives with small, quiet rooms where they can meet in private, take statements and interview witnesses and suspects. Now, the officers sit in the lobby or at a small table in front of the dispatchers' station.

To determine just what they needed, the chief and other police officials toured numerous stations and headquarters of smaller departments -- Fairfax has 64 sworn officers and 24 civilian employees. They picked up ideas for maximizing space, such as creating an emergency operations center that doubles as a computer training room and linking three interview rooms where suspects are questioned while other investigators watch, to one central observation area. A training room has video-conferencing capability.

As computer-related crime grows, "we'll have a computer forensics lab built for that purpose," Rappoport said, instead of the closet that currently serves that function and is stuffed with five monitors and numerous cooling fans. Officers who ride bicycles and motorcycles will have indoor storage space, not the temporary sheds they use behind the current headquarters. Locker rooms and evidence storage will have ample space, a marked contrast to the improvised nature of the current building.

Rappoport said the changes won't affect him greatly -- he's already the top dog. "My life is pretty good."

But it will be a big step up for those who work for him. "I'm most excited for them. This will be such a significant difference for them, from what they've had to live with all these years," Rappoport said. "For them, it's huge. We're going from a Model T to a Cadillac in one fell swoop."

The new police building will be 32,200 square feet, project manager Adrian J. Fremont said. The City Hall addition will bring 30,500 square feet more. Changes in the plans and rising construction costs pushed the price of the two projects up to $23.8 million, Fremont said.

As for the City Hall addition, "one of the main goals of its expansion was to make it more of a one-stop shop for the public, make things more easily accessible," Fremont said. It was designed to be compatible with the existing building, which has left offices and people shoehorned into every available space.

On the second floor will be the city treasurer, public works and commissioner of revenue, the three most commonly visited offices for the public.

A combination courtroom and City Council room and a council work session room will be on the third floor. The addition also will have public conference rooms for meetings -- the current building has none, Fremont said. That building will be renovated once the addition is completed.

"I think we have one of the most beautiful City Hall campuses anywhere," Lederer said, referring to the front entrance with columns, the sloping grassy lawn and the small amphitheater on the side. The addition "looks like it belongs there."

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