GPD building being razed starting this week


The city of Gainesville has plans to demolish the former Gainesville Police Department Headquarters at 721 NW 6th Street in Gainesville, shown on Tuesday.

Erica Brough/Staff Photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 9:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 9:05 p.m.

Before August 1953, the Gainesville Police Department was headquartered in the basement of the old City Hall building downtown. Back then, the department boasted 40 officers, six patrol cars, four plain cars and four motorcycles.

Today, the number of officers in the force hovers near 300.

Over the years, the GPD building at 721 NW Sixth St. has been renovated quite a few times. This week, however, the building will be demolished, and a shiny new one will rise in its place.

“The existing building served GPD and the community for many years,” GPD Chief Tony Jones said, “but we are excited to see what the new headquarters can do for our community and the department.”

The demolition is scheduled to start by the end of the week, according to a GPD spokesman, and will take approximately three weeks.

Gainesville City Manager Russ Blackburn said the project costs about $10.9 million, and includes the demolition and the construction of a two-story, 40,000-square-foot building with a red brick, stone, stucco and glass exterior.

A 9,000-square-foot warehouse also will be renovated into a training facility. Construction should take about a year, and the city is using a mix of funding sources to pay for design and construction.

Blackburn said those sources include some $3.9 million remaining from the initial pledge to the headquarters construction, $1.5 million from a Federal Law Enforcement Contraband Forfeiture Fund, $2 million from a bond issuance approved in 2011 and $3.5 million from reserves.

Some police operations have relocated permanently to the Police Administration Building around the corner on Northwest Eighth Avenue.

Other units have been moved temporarily to other city-owned property. Detectives, for instance, are in an office building downtown, while Internal Affairs is in the Loblolly Woods Nature Park at 3315 NW Fifth Ave.

Officer Marc Trahan is an investigator in GPD’s forensics unit, but in his spare time he serves as the department’s de facto historian.

“I have a history degree from UF,” he said, “and I thought it would be nice if we knew more about some of the old pictures we have in the archives. You go to a lot of (police departments) and they have pictures of chiefs on the wall, so I said, ‘we ought to have that.’ ”

Trahan helped organize some of the old photographs and helped put together the timeline of the police force for the GPD website.

He said the first police force was established in 1853 along with the establishment of the town. It wasn’t much at first, he said. Just one or two people. In 1908, the department got its first car — a Model T Ford.

“The whole department could fit into it,” he said.

Things picked up a little in the ’20s. The first 24-hour desk sergeant position was created in 1926. In 1928, Trahan said, the first official uniforms were instituted by then Chief Edward D. Vestel. By 1935, the department was up to 10 officers and added its first radio transmitter. The first African-American officer, Oscar Lewis, joined the force in 1946.

By the mid-’50s, Trahan said, the town was growing so fast that it was time for the department to move out of the basement of City Hall, so the building at Sixth Street was built.

The building also held a municipal court and a jail by 1957.

By 1962, Trahan said, the building essentially doubled in size and a second floor was added.

In the ’70s, the jail moved to its current location, and more space was added on the back of the building. The old jail area became the home base for the forensics unit, Trahan said.

“You can see in a sense we’ve been doubling in size to accommodate for the increase in population,” he said.

By 1983, the force was up to 240 officers, 120 patrol cars, 50 plain vehicles, 10 motorcycles and a helicopter.

Since then, most of the renovations have been cosmetic, Trahan said, but recently code compliance and asbestos issues made a complete demolition and rebuild more cost-effective than a renovation.

Currently, Trahan and the forensics unit is in trailers, and he said the new building will have plenty of space for what the department needs. Current GPD Chief Tony Jones said everyone is looking forward to the new building.

“This has been a long time coming,” Jones said, “and the entire police department is excited to see real progress on a new home for us.”

Staff writers Chris Curry and Cindy Swirko contributed to this report.

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