Niles FOP lodge bounces back from tragedy, is eager to servePublished 4:03pm Sunday, August 25, 2013
In the early morning hours of March 14, 2012, several Niles police officers responded to a call that hit closer to home than most. Nearly a year and a half later, the same officers gathered among fellow policemen and community members to celebrate what may have been a blessing in disguise.
“Two young men had stolen a vehicle and were attempting to hide the evidence,” said Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) president, Mike Dawson.
Dawson said the convicted arsonists, Kyle Kelly of Niles and Gary Nellans II of South Bend, claim to have lit the car on fire and pushed it down the hill, igniting the FOP lodge upon collision. However, Dawson said that considering the size and distance of the hill, it is more likely that the men lit the car on fire under the bridge in the middle of the building.
“They’re claiming they didn’t target us, but it’s pretty obvious,” he said.
Regardless of the intent, when officers arrived to the scene, the lodge and the car were completely engulfed in flames and the FOP lodge was completely razed.
Soon after the fire, FOP members began plans for rebuilding a new FOP lodge so they could continue using it to serve the community. Dawson credits his successors in the FOP for current members’ desire to rebuild so quickly.
“So many police officers in the 50s and 60s put time and money into this building,” said Dawson. “We do this in memory of them.”
Dawson explained that the FOP lodge was built in pieces over two decades, so sections of the building were not as conveniently set up as they could have been.
“The older building was about 1,800 square feet smaller than this one, and this building is 35 feet closer to the river,” he said.
The new building was intended to be more appealing to users with windows overlooking the St. Joseph River and a more convenient floor plan. The FOP rents out the facility in order to raise funds for philanthropic needs such as the Niles-Buchanan Relay for Life.
The new, more modern building cost approximately $350 thousand to rebuild, $100 thousand of which was fundraised by the community. Over the past year, the FOP has hosted multiple corn roasts, collected donations from the community and sold bricks to line the new building and walkway.
Among several contributors to the project, Dawson cited DC Construction Management of Mishawaka as one of the most helpful.
“They built this facility for much less money and in much less time than any other buildings of this size,” he said.
Dawson also mentioned the French Paper Mill, Niles City Police Union, Watson’s Tree Service and Niles Chemical Paint as large contributors.
Although the lodge is not entirely finished, the building is available for rent to the community.
“We’re back in business finally,” said Dawson. “We’re here and ready to help in any way we can.”
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