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Dust was flying around West Seneca Town Hall on Monday, and for once, it wasn’t about sewer lines, higher taxes or three-member boards.

Early construction was under way on a multi-phase, $1.2 million project to upgrade Town Hall and expand the town Police Department.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Edward F. Gehen, West Seneca’s chief of police, adding there had been talk of expanding his department when he arrived as a patrolman way back in 1980. “I’ve been pushing for this for 12 years, since I’ve been chief.”

For the first time this month, in place of words and intentions, residents arrived to find the large western entrance door to Town Hall barricaded and much of that side of the building fenced off. Instead, those attending Monday’s regular Town Board meeting entered through a small, first-floor glass door on the north side of municipal building, maneuvering through the work zone upstairs to the Council Chambers.

Work on the first phase of the project, which will see an entire reconstruction of the west entrance to Town Hall completed and the construction of a new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevator, is expected to run through late April.

Then, the real nitty-gritty work reconfiguring the Police Department offices will start in earnest on the first floor at 1250 Union Road. The second phase of the project will see the current 4,900 square feet of floor space for the 66-officer department nearly double.

It means a lot to see work under way, Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan said.

“When I got here four years ago,” she said, “I knew this was something that the town had to do.”

Besides assuring the Town Hall became ADA-compliant, Meegan said the reconfigured and reconstructed facility will mean criminal suspects will not be walked through the general public areas into the courtroom.

Instead, as part of the third and fourth phases of the project, an addition will be built on the south side of Town Hall replete with a secure corridor for officers to transport prisoners.

Added Gehen: “It’s long overdue. Not only for us, but it’s for the safety of the public.”

Financing for much of the project is already in place. The town has accumulated $600,000 in grant money and previously budgeted for $450,000 more of the project costs. Additional grant money is being sought for the balance, Meegan said.

Town officials also said a lot of the work is being kept in-house with town building and grounds employees performing plaster, drywall, air conditioning and electrical work for the project. That’s keeping overall costs lower, Meegan said.

When the project is completed, officials estimate in about a year’s time, residents will again enter Town Hall on the west side of the building but instead into a first-floor vestibule.

The new dispatch center for the Police Department will be near that first-floor entrance behind glass. On the first-floor’s north side of the municipal building, the police administration offices along with records, identification and an upgraded 911 system will be housed. The south side of the building will be where police operations will be located for captains, lieutenants and officers.

“We’ve come up with a great way for reorganizing the Police Department,” Gehen said.

By project completion, the Police Department will occupy about 12,000 square feet of space.

Gehen joked that for more than a decade at his department’s annual “goals and objectives” meeting, “more space” was always the first answer from staff before the skeptical scoffing ensued.

“Now, they can see it,” Gehen said.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com