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POLICE HEADQUARTERS SHOWING ITS AGE DESPITE RENOVATIONS

At 65, it, frankly, is showing its age.

The tan ceramic skin, the ornamental concrete crowning the four-story walls and the green granite skirt around its base have long since gone out of style. The toilets back up; the heat is as iffy as a Buffalo spring; and the stairs are an obstacle course.

Like the criminals it frequently houses, Buffalo Police Headquarters has something of a history of unkindness toward its workers, police officials said last week.

So a piecemeal renovation of headquarters, started nearly a decade ago, continues with $500,000 in work planned to eliminate structural maladies and modernize crime-fighting equipment for the police force of 900, the largest in Western New York.

At least one police officer has fallen on the worn and grooved black granite wafer steps in the building's stairwells.

Ventless bathrooms and one shared by both men and women on the fourth floor are not very good for either gender, workers say.

Problems with aging boilers have been blamed for the fluctuation in temperatures, according to police.

"Late one night, this dirty, disheveled man walked into headquarters holding a huge pipe wrench. I thought he was coming for me, and I had thoughts of protecting myself," Lt. Larry J. Baehre said. "I asked him who he was and was surprised when he mumbled something about being the boiler tender responding to a call of no heat in the Homicide Bureau."

For a while, the building at the corner of Franklin and Church streets appeared likely to be torn down to make way for a parking lot, allowing construction of a new courthouse on an adjacent lot on Church Street. But that proposal now appears dead.

The biggest part of the renovation will provide a new $350,000 police dispatch center on the second floor. It will replace outdated radio equipment and more than double the size of the current 18-foot by 11-foot dispatch room. Work is expected to begin this spring and be completed within 18 months.

About $50,000 in improvements will be made soon in the photography and ballistics laboratories on the fourth floor. In the 1996-97 fiscal year, which will start July 1, improvements are planned for the basement gymnasium, the fourth-floor cellblock and the lobby, according to Capt. James P. Giammaresi, head of the department's planning unit.

Today, $23,000 in repair work on the worn steps in the two stairwells in headquarters will begin, Giammaresi added.

Workers in headquarters generally welcome the improvements, but one thriving group of occupants never has once offered an opinion either way on the shape of the building:

It's cockroaches and spiders.

"They're monsters that grow 1 and 2 inches long here. I think they thrive on the poison we've tried to kill them with," said Baehre.

He expects the creatures easily will survive the upcoming renovations.

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