August 8, 2022

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Police substation at Oceanfront won’t be open for busy summer season after renovation costs doubled

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After 10 people were shot in the Virginia Beach resort area last March, the city and police sprang into action to try to make the Oceanfront safer.

They quickly installed more surveillance cameras, lights and a gunshot detection system — and leased commercial space near the site of the shootings to turn it into a police substation.

The city needed to renovate the space, estimating it would be done by the spring so the substation would be up and running by this summer’s busy tourism season.

That won’t happen. The city hasn’t started the renovation and now says it needs more than double the $500,000 initially budgeted for the project. All the while, it’s paying $5,000 a month to rent space that sits vacant. Word of the delays only recently reached City Council members, though the city’s known about the issues since the fall.

“It wasn’t budgeted properly,” Virginia Beach police Capt. Harry McBrien told members of the city’s Resort Advisory Commission this month. “It’s in pretty bad shape inside.”

The building on Atlantic Avenue, between 21st and 22nd streets, is in the heart of the resort area. It’s supposed to be a home base for police officers, fire marshals and emergency medical personnel.

“It was the only piece of property on Atlantic Avenue that was available to lease, so they wanted it,” said Tom Nicholas, the city’s project manager.

The renovation work was to be done over the winter so that it could be fully operational this summer, according to the city.

After signing the lease, the city hired Moseley Architects to design the space. The firm’s staff visited the building several times between June and September, Nicholas said.

They provided a cost estimate for the project that was $681,000 more than the amount the city originally budgeted. It’s unclear why it was so much higher, though Nicholas indicated city staffers were surprised by the amount.

The cost includes installing ballistic protection at the front and rear of the building, replacing walls inside, and buying new furniture, lighting and communication systems. City staff began preparing to ask the City Council for the additional money, but Police Chief Paul Neudigate wasn’t comfortable with the amount, Nicholas said.

“He wanted us to be sure (of the costs),” Nicholas said.

That’s when City Manager Patrick Duhaney pulled the request from the City Council agenda and Nicholas asked the architects to verify the pricing, Nicholas said.

The second estimate came in January and was nearly the same, he said. Duhaney decided then to wait for the next budget cycle, Nicholas said. At that point, there was no way the substation would be operational for tourist season.

There’s also confusion about whether mold has contributed to the delays and increased cost. McBrien told the city’s resort advisory commission this month that the building has a problem. Nicholas contends he’s not aware of any mold and that no tests have been conducted.

The building’s owner, Stephan Michaels, said this week that he wasn’t aware of a mold problem, either — and no one from the city or police told him about it. He said he was surprised that the police haven’t been using the space.

“It’s pretty much idle,” Michaels said.

Word of the project’s delay came from McBrien, not Duhaney or his office, at the April 7 Resort Advisory Commission meeting.

Councilman Guy Tower, who represents the resort area, was at the meeting and expressed his concern that he didn’t know about the situation sooner.

If the City Council approves the request for the additional money, it will be available in July. And the renovation would be completed in early 2023, according to Duhaney.

“It’s frustrating to me that it’s being held up,” Tower said at the meeting. “We have summer coming.”

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, [email protected]

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