(Aug. 23, 2013) Enter the Ocean City Beach Patrol headquarters on Dorchester Street and you’ll find a pale blue office lined by maps, neat rows of keys on hooks and a large whiteboard charting the day’s work. A dispatcher handles several radios and the phone as waves of coworkers float in and out of the office.
Go beyond the entryway, and there are trophies lining a cluttered hallway. Pictures hang wrinkled in their frames and mold creeps from some corners, the product of water damage from leaky roofs, Beach Patrol Lt. Ward Kovacs said.
“That’s our home. That’s where we work out of every day,” Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin said.
The Beach Patrol moved from Worcester Street to its Dorchester Street headquarters in 1994, after city police moved from that site to the new Public Safety Building on 65th Street.
The complex — two former police buildings, an old courthouse and a jail that was demolished to make room for the parking lot — was meant to be a temporary home.
“It was never built to suit our needs,” Kovacs said.
Almost two decades later, the Beach Patrol still operates out of the repurposed facilities. The group has never asked the City Council for a new headquarters, but discussions on the topic have existed as long as the patrol has used the retrofitted complex, Arbin said.
One problem was that most councilmembers had never been in the compound until July 30, when Arbin took them on a tour of the deteriorating structure.
“They could smell that smell — that mold,” Arbin said. “One of them was actually physically sick, couldn’t stay in the building.”
The city has funded some repairs, including installing new roofs on the garage and administrative building and resealing some windows, but the Beach Patrol has been frugal with repairs.
“I really don’t want to be spending large amounts of money on something that we’re hopefully going to have replaced soon,” Arbin said. “That’s wasteful.”
“If you’re going to replace things, where would you stop?” Kovacs asked.
Aside from structural problems, the complex was not designed to house the equipment of 200 Beach Patrol personnel. Storage is tight in the winter, Arbin said. Junior Beach Patrol equipment hangs in an old police horse stall and vehicles rest under a ceiling of insulation bursting with birds’ nests.
Part of the delay in action is money, Arbin said.
The City Council is “getting a lot of pressure from the public about not spending money,” he said. “There’s resistance from some factions to funding [a new headquarters].”
Another roadblock is uncertainty about the location of a new Beach Patrol headquarters.
A downtown site is key because of its proximity to the beach and the Coast Guard station, where the Beach Patrol docks its rescue watercraft and boards for offshore rescues, Arbin said. Employee housing is also downtown, meaning personnel can readily respond to after-hours incidents.
“We need to have the focus of our operation downtown,” Arbin said.
Two weeks ago, he attended the city’s capital improvements plan discussion, where “they kind of bypassed the Beach Patrol headquarters even though it was on the list,” he said.
Though the council said it would return to the topic later, there is no timeframe set for the discussion, he said.
“We’re hoping that the ball starts rolling really soon and to get into the planning stage,” Kovacs said.
“We need to have a nice facility for our public image that really showcases who we are and that says that Ocean City cares about its Beach Patrol and beach safety,” Arbin said. “To not have a facility that says that — it’s kind of a mixed message.”