It's a frame-up: Braselton PD work goes on

BRASELTON - The final steel beam of Braselton's $4.2 million police department and court facility is about to be hoisted into place.

Mayor Pat Graham and town council members hosted a ceremonial beam-signing event Monday, commemorating Braselton's first newly constructed municipal building in 89 years.

Holden Helcher served as the ceremony's guest of honor. He was presented with a Georgia state flag and led officials in the beam signing. Holden is the son of the late Sgt. Todd Helcher of the Braselton Police Department who died in a car wreck in July. Helcher was on his way home from work when a car sideswiped his cruiser on Ga. Highway 365, causing it to roll over.

The beam will carry signatures of Mayor Graham and town council members, city staff, police officers, design staff, Holden Helcher and State Representative Tommy Benton.

"Anyone who has seen the police offices or been here on court night realizes the importance of this building," said Joe Fenton, project manager for the Facility Group, the Smyrna contractor constructing the building.

The Police Department currently operates in the two back offices on Town Hall's top floor, a total of 500 square feet. Municipal court is held in the downstairs conference room, which was once the Braselton family's dining room. Town Hall was constructed in 1909 as the Braselton family private residence.

The new brick, Georgian-style facility stands next to Town Hall on Ga. Highway 53. It will rise two stories above a full basement, for a total of 24,000 square feet of space. The building will house the police department staff, 13 officers, municipal court and a community room. The top floor will remain undeveloped for future use. A distinctive bell tower above the front door tops the structure.

Architect Gary Retel said it took about three months to design the building.

The town received bank financing for the construction and is paying back the loan with development impact fees.

Once the final signed beam is hoisted into place, the steel structure of the building will have been completed. Brick work, electrical and plumbing should begin in a few weeks.

"We were here for a ground-breaking in July 2005, and I fully expect we will be here for a ribbon-cutting July 2006," said Fenton.

When the building facility opens, Chief Terry Esco will get his own office.

"Actually, I have an office, but my secretary uses it," said Chief Esco. "When the building opens, she will have her office and I will have mine."

In 1990, when Esco began his career with the Braselton Police Department, they had two officers - Esco and a part-timer. The department operated out of a double-wide trailer smaller than their current facility and kept watch over a population of 312 in Jackson County.

The Police Department moved to Town Hall in 1997, and began patrolling the Barrow, Hall and Gwinnett portions of town in March 2001. Today, the 13-member unit patrols a nine-mile radius that includes Interstate 85 and more than 3,000 citizens.