NEWFANE—After nearly two centuries here, the Windham County Sheriff’s Office will move to Brattleboro.
Windham County has bought the former Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee Joint Information Center at 185 Old Ferry Rd., which was once the world headquarters of Famolare Shoes, to house the Sheriff’s Office and the county courthouse.
Assistant Judges Patricia Duff and Lamont Barnett closed the deal for $500,000 on the property, valued by the town at $810,000, on Feb. 14.
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant stopped generating power in 2014, and by 2016, Entergy left the Old Ferry Road complex that had housed the Vermont Yankee’s local offices and a training center for the plant.
Sharing the new space
The Sheriff’s Office, currently located off Route 30 in Newfane Village, has been in the village in one form or another since a jail was built there in 1825. Those who use the building daily say it is overcrowded and outmoded and that fixing air-quality and other issues would cost more than buying the Brattleboro location.
“Our current facility lacks the infrastructure necessary to provide an appropriate environment for a 24/7 public safety agency,” said Sheriff Mark Anderson. “We need space for training, access for people with disabilities, a reliable electrical system, and safety equipment that all come with significant price tags.”
He added sharing the space with the courthouse — which will be a temporary move — is also “an opportunity to reduce the cost to taxpayers by co-locating resources in support of each other.”
One of the new location’s two floors will serve as an interim space for the courthouse as a satellite office while upgrades to improve air quality are being made to its Newfane home, which, like the original county jail, was built in 1825.
The construction for courthouse improvements will take up to two years, said Capt. Paul Samataro, “so it will suit them to come to the county building in Brattleboro.”
“The county is responsible for providing the county courthouse,” Duff said. “The Newfane Courthouse currently lacks an air-handling system, which has made holding trials for the civil division impossible in light of COVID-19.”
Duff said the county “is working with the state to install the system at their cost, which has an anticipated construction timeline of 18-24 months. The County will offer this interim space to the Judiciary while the renovations of our historic courthouse are carefully made.”
She added this opportunity “allows for a temporary space to house the Civil Division while also ensuring our Sheriff has an office appropriate for the duties they perform.”
“We’ve really outgrown the building,” said Samataro. “Our air-handling system here and so forth are really outdated, and renovating the building would really cost so much more.”
Sheriff’s Office promises better emergency response
While the Sheriff’s Office serves as the primary law enforcement agency for 13 Windham County towns — many without local police departments of their own — Samataro said the move will not adversely affect service.
“The office is just really a business office for us,” he said. “Deputies work out of cruisers with computers, so it doesn’t really affect our service. It’s not going to interfere with services. They are already on patrol in the towns we serve.”
In fact, Samataro said, the new space will be a boon to servicing the county.
With 75 percent of the Sheriff’s Office’s business services — fingerprinting, court processing, serving paperwork — already in the Brattleboro area, those tasks will be streamlined, and the department will be closer to the Windham District Court just down the road.
Sheriff’s Department personnel also assist the Brattleboro Police Department in prisoner transport to Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.
Anderson also hopes that with better infrastructure in place, the state emergency response system here can be improved.
The sheriff advocates for a “one emergency, one dispatch” system statewide.
Samataro explained that when someone calls 911, the call goes to either Westminster or Williston, where dispatchers determine which agency should respond. From there, fire and ambulance calls are forwarded to Keene, N.H., which in turn contacts a department in Windham County.
“We’re trying to put everything under one umbrella to eliminate that out-of-state next step,” Samataro said.
And the money to do so is there, since Gov. Phil Scott recently announced an $11 million allocation to support emergency dispatch regionalization around the state.
“We also have a lot of in-service training around the county, and this building has separate classrooms so they can train here,” Samataro said. “We’re trying to keep the officers here in southern Vermont. It just makes more sense.”
“The Vermont Legislature has recently passed bills encouraging the Vermont Police Academy to provide regional training opportunities,” Anderson said. “We have depended on partners to host our in-service training for years.”
That system, he continued, worked “until we lost all access due to COVID-19.”
“The constraint of our current facility is one of the reasons we appreciate this opportunity,” the sheriff said.