By Sandy Brundage | Almanac Staff Writer
The new Menlo Park Police Department substation holds some surprises for the Belle Haven neighborhood. The long-awaited facility, scheduled to open April 26, will offer some equally long-awaited community services in addition to its policing functions.
"The substation project really grew into a larger project that we are equating to a neighborhood service center," said Clay Curtin, whose duties as assistant to the city manager expanded to include overseeing construction of the new facility.
In addition to a community messageboard and a meeting room, residents can use a new ATM -- already operational -- courtesy of the San Mateo Credit Union, which plans to provide other services and financial education that the Belle Haven community requested during the city's recent "visioning process," Mr. Curtin said.
Eventually public Wi-Fi and a computer terminal will be available, and possibly other electronic banking services.
The substation's architecture reflects the desire for a community gathering spot. Located in a strip mall at Hamilton Avenue and Willow Road, the 1,800-square-foot space used to be two separate units that the city leased from the property owner and combined, according to Mr. Curtin.
Facebook paid for the construction costs -- $139,635 -- and is also chipping in $2,800 toward the $3,700 monthly rent, with the city paying the rest.
The social media company's influence shows in the design details as well, as Mr. Curtin described the wood finishes, moveable furniture, polished concrete and other details that resemble those at Facebook's headquarters down the road.
With double doors at the front and wraparound windows letting in plenty of natural light, to "make the space feel larger, more open, and friendly," he said, the facility presents a stark contrast to the police department's old substation on Newbridge, which often earned comparisons to a bunker, complete with barred windows.
"We want to create an atmosphere where the community feels much more welcome to just come in and provide information, or get services," Police Chief Bob Jonsen said. "Right now they're really happy about having that ATM, believe it or not. They really wanted and needed one, and they realize that we're listening, rather than the city dictating what we want them to have."
After opening, the substation will launch a six-month staffing trial with a community service officer and a code enforcement officer. A third officer, Mary Ferguson-Dixon, who was selected to fill a new position underwritten by Facebook, will keep an office at the facility.
The Belle Haven substation will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A Spanish speaker will be on hand Mondays and Fridays, with on-call translation available at other times. Initial services will include code enforcement, filing police reports, purchasing overnight parking permits and signing off on equipment violations.
Community feedback will also play an important role going forward, Chief Jonsen said. "The first six months is really going to help us mold that concept into what (residents) want. We'll have someone there to hear what services they're asking for, and then at the end of six months, we'll look at what they really want."
Menlo Park has been attempting to open a fully operational substation in Belle Haven for nearly 10 years. Chief Jonsen said the most common comment he hears now is, 'I can't believe it's finally happening.'
"They're so used to hearing 'it's coming, it's coming.' They're astonished that it is happening," he said.