A project that has been years in the making is finally coming to fruition, as village crews are working five days a week to convert a stately old building on Rockaway Avenue into the new Valley Stream courthouse.
While the second floor has been occupied for some time by various law enforcement departments, work on the lower level had stalled while plans were drawn and funding was secured. Construction is now in full swing to create a new courtroom, which will be relocated from Village Hall.
Mayor Ed Fare said the hope is to have the new court up and running early next year. The building, at 195 Rockaway Ave., was built in 1926 and served as Village Hall from 1936 to 1954, when the present facility opened. Most recently, it housed a bank and a law office.
“The village has purchased this twice,” Village Justice Robert Bogle said. “You can’t underestimate the historical significance of this building.”
Last year, the Code Enforcement and Public Safety departments moved in to the second floor of the building, along with Auxiliary Police. A room also has been set aside for the Valley Stream Civilian Patrol. In the future, the court offices will occupy the remainder of the top level.
Fare noted that little work was needed to get the second floor ready, because it had been used as offices until the village took over the building in 2011. A lot of furniture was even left behind and is being reused.
Vincent Cusumano, supervisor of Public Safety, said he enjoys the new location for his department, which used to be housed in the Firemen’s Field Clubhouse in the northeast corner of Valley Stream.
“I love the building. It’s a great location,” he said. “It’s the middle point of the village.”
Cusumano said that having Public Safety, Auxiliary Police and Code Enforcement together has improved communication. The three departments have been making good use of the conference room, equipped with a computer and SmartBoard, to review quality of life issues in the village, ranging from code violations to noise complaints to graffiti.
Richard Vela, commander of Auxiliary Police Unit No. 108, also likes the new quarters. His department has two offices, plus storage space in the basement. Soon, his volunteer officers will be getting new lockers. “We have more space now,” he said.
On the lower level, the courtroom is beginning to take shape. Walls have been built for two new bathrooms in the front, as well as two conference rooms in the back, where meetings between prosecutors and defendants can take place. A half-wall has also been constructed for the judge’s bench area.
The mezzanine level, which overlooks the future courtroom, will house the judge’s chamber and a larger conference room. Bogle said that room will be used for most complicated cases, like zoning matters, where numerous attorneys are present.
The courtroom itself will have seating for 140 people. Because the capacity will be reduced from the present facility, Bogle expects to increase the frequency of court nights, from twice a month to every week.
Fare said he is hopeful that having the court on Rockaway Avenue will support the local businesses, because of the influx of people visiting the downtown.
There is much work still to be done. In the coming weeks, sprinklers and an upgraded electrical system will be installed. That will be followed by plumbing, the heating and air conditioning system, and completion of the walls. A handicapped entrance will be created and new windows will be installed. Bogle noted that the village has received about $250,000, a combination of grants from the state Legislature and Office of Court Administration, for the project.
The building will include a modern fire alarm system with carbon monoxide detectors, according to village Fire Inspector Frank Roca.
Thomas McAleer, the village’s building superintendent, estimated there is still six to eight months of work ahead, but said village crews and outside contractors will be working every day to get it done.
The existing courtroom at Village Hall will continue to be used for Board of Trustees meetings, and will also be upgraded to serve as a community theater. Fare said he wants the theater at Village Hall, instead of Rockaway Avenue, so it would be near the library.