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Allentown police chief makes case for new station after heat broken more than a month

City of Allentown
This rendering by Alloy5 shows what the new Allentown Police Department could look like.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect heat was restored this week to the police department headquarters.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The heating system at the Allentown Police Department was broken for more than a month, showing the city’s need for a new station, according to the department’s chief.

Charles Roca, who’s led the Allentown Police Department since September 2021, urged city council members Wednesday to support significant renovations — and a large addition — at the department’s headquarters at 425 W. Hamilton St.

The 60-year-old building has major architectural issues, as well as problems with its plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems, Roca said.

The department’s heating system broke on Dec. 28, plunging temperatures into the 50s in much of the building, while the holding cells were even colder, according to the head of Allentown’s police union. Heat was restored to the building Tuesday, said city Communications Manager Genesis Ortega.

Fraternal Order of Police President Dave Benner said the conditions were “inhumane treatment” and criticized the department’s response to install space heaters while waiting for the heating system to be fixed.

The Allentown Police Department was warmed by space heaters during the breakdown. The city rented two generators to power about 20 space heaters, Roca told LehighValleyNews.com last week.

“It is not the [permanent] fix, but it’s definitely warmer in the police station,” the chief said.

Renovation and expansion

The best long-term solution — according to Roca and a six-month study conducted by architects from Alloy5 — would be to expand the current police headquarters by more than 75%.

The study calls for substantial renovations at the 28,900-square-foot station, with a 22,500-square-foot addition placed closer to Hamilton Street. That project could cost about $37 million, according to the study.

Jason Addy
This 3D-printed model made by Alloy5 shows the proposed additions to the Allentown Police Department in blue, with City Hall to the left and the government parking deck to the right, with Hamilton Street in the foreground.

If council moves forward with plans to expand APD, department officials would spend the rest of the year working to complete the designs and get them approved, the study shows.

Construction would be done in phases and take up to 18 months, with officials hopeful of moving into the new facility in 2026.

“What we found was that the department is spending a lot of time, resources, energy and funds to work out of a building that is not working for them.”
Bekah Rusnock, Alloy5’s director of development

The addition would be built first so it could be used while renovations are made at the current facility, according to Alloy5 principal architect Randy Galiotto.

Building 'not working' for APD

The Allentown Police Department was built in 1963 with a design to fit with City Hall.

“After 60 years, and without significant renovations, the building no longer meets police needs,” the study says.

Council member Daryl Hendricks said he joined the Allentown Police Department in 1978 — 15 years after the facility opened — when there were 163 officers.

The building is no longer suitable, with more than 210 officers on the force in 2024, Roca said.

The new facility could house up to 250 officers, according to the proposal.

The six-month study analyzed 30 characteristics of the Allentown Police Department, and all but one were rated as average or worse.

The building’s exterior walls were deemed “good,” while its fire-suppression system, parking and code compliance are “critical” problems that should be addressed immediately, architects said.

“What we found was that the department is spending a lot of time, resources, energy and funds to work out of a building that is not working for them,” Bekah Rusnock, Alloy5’s director of development, told council.

Allentown City Council in December allocated several million dollars to the project. Allentown Finance Director Bina Patel said the city is exploring other funding sources, including issuing bonds to support the capital project.

The Allentown Fire Department is also eyeing a new facility, with Central Fire Station “falling apart,” according to a deputy fire chief.

The city could issue bonds to fund that project, too, Patel said.