R53M ‘Community-friendly’ makeover of PE police station wraps

 

(Port Elizabeth) – After three years of hard work, the R53-million revamp of Port Elizabeth’s Bethelsdorp Police Station has wrapped, heralding a new era in user-friendly, community-orientated crime control for residents.

In a bid to provide a more compassionate, public-oriented service, the new facility now not only features a mandatory charge office and holding cells, but also offers a far greater element of privacy to victims of crime.

“We feel the SAPS deserves credit for their visionary role in this project,” said Greta Teltschik, an architect with SVA International, the firm tasked with making the vision a reality. The firm officially handed over the station earlier this month.

“It has certainly been a challenging transition, due to the police station being operational while renovations were carried out. The project had to remain as fluid as possible, while still fulfilling its role as a servant to the community.”

While working in an operational facility had thrown a number of challenges at architects, there were also a number of highlights, said Teltschik.

“For me, the biggest achievement was the establishment of an autonomous centre which serves the sole purpose of helping victims of crime,” she said. “In the police station’s previous life, victims were forced to wait in a single room, regardless of the crime committed against them – or their age.”

Part of this new wing is dedicated completely to children, who now have a colourful waiting room in which to play while waiting for assistance.

Another highlight of the project is the fact the police station has completely changed the way it operates, she said.

“It’s more of a community centre now,” said Teltschik. “The charge office is more user-friendly, with a dedicated area for the public to make statements, get documents certified and make general enquiries.”

Bethelsdorp station commander Brigadier Zolani Xawuka said the revamp allowed the police station to operate far more effectively and efficiently.

“We now have two boardrooms, which allows us to run different meetings concurrently. And our ‘war room’ enables us to coordinate operations from a central point for serious crimes or events that may involve the services of external stakeholders.”

Xawuka said the new cells would reduce overcrowding. Two new archive storerooms facilitated better storage of files and closed dockets, while an upgraded generator system would allow the station to remain fully operational during power outages, he said.

“An additional office building means each detective has his or her own office and there are extra offices available to accommodate newly appointed detectives.”

Commenting on the transformation, Colonel Dawie Scholtz, who has been stationed in Bethelsdorp for the last 15 years, commended SVA International for the role the firm played in converting the vision into reality over the many years which the revamp spanned.

“Before the renovations, the outside of the police station was a nightmare. On rainy days, one could not access the station without getting wet or full of mud. Now the access point is neatly tarred and parking is clearly marked,” said Scholtz.

“In the summer months going to work was unbearable, with the facility being very hot and humid. Air conditioners have sorted that out, while a modern change room with lockers and men’s and women’s showers have added to the morale-boosting changes.

“But perhaps the most important aspect of the renovations is the state-of-the-art victim support facility, which has a monitoring room, restroom, playroom and shower facility.

“The desperately needed revamp has seen a complete turnaround for everyone involved.”

Although more often associated with developing retail centres, SVA International is no stranger to public projects, having worked on upgrades to both the North End Prison, the Magistrate’s Court in Port Elizabeth and the Kareedouw public library.

“As societal demands change, we plan to change with them,” said Teltschik. “We see our firm taking a more community-based path, involving ourselves in the building of projects such as schools and libraries. Playing our role in social issues and social realities is the only way forward.”