Cohen Says Police Facility Should Be Of Primary Concern For Incoming Council
The West U. Police Department has staff working out of closet space – and Councilwoman Phyllis Cohen says the situation has consistently been trumped by recreational facilities in the last few city councils, and should be high on the agenda of the upcoming council elected May 9.
Police Chief Ken Walker’s main concern is the safety of his employees as well as maintaining the city’s 911 system and communication devices during a flood.
“These problems have existed since I started four years ago,” said Cohen. “For different reasons each council has put it on the back burner, but it really deserves to be on the front burner. We have talked views to the pool and dance studios…pretty window decorations and things like that. I think its incumbent on the next council to really look seriously at this. It has been along standing problem. There are a lot of reasons it has been passed along. I think parks and recreation for various reasons have taken priority.”
A brief tour of the police station reveals telephone, computer and radio equipment stored in former closets throughout the building, much of which would be flooded should water get into the building as it did during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Ceiling tiles show water stains from leaks throughout the building, foundation issues are apparent in cracks around doorways and in tiles on the floor, and staff are dispersed throughout the building, some in rooms that used to be a hallway.
A flood in the building right now could wipe out the 911 system, the DirectLink system, telephone lines and communication for both the police department and the fire department.
“We have tons of electronic equipment in the dispatch center where 911 calls come in,” said Walker. “If it happens again it will have to be shut down. I can’t have them touching electrical equipment in two feet of water.”
Walker says the emergency radio equipment for police and fire overheats, and they have been using a “communications system environmental control device” to cool the equipment down – otherwise known as a fan.
The door to the room now used for computer equipment – formerly a storage closet – had to remain open for a year to alleviate overheating issues. The room now has a dedicated sir conditioning vent, and the door can be shut.
“It is a mechanical room built for 1980 technology,” said City Manager Michael Ross. “It tends to overheat much more quickly – that is one of the challenges, trying to keep things cool.”
Walker says two police lieutenant was were using former closets as offices, but one had to move after the third or fourth time the former closet flooded. The closet is now used for storage – along with hallways and other available space.
Brinkley Sargent Architects did a “needs assessment” of the facility in 2002, and estimated a cost of $4.5 million to $5 million to build a facility that would meet the future needs of the department.
“The police department has outgrown the available space within the facility and the building shows signs of structural and roof problems,” according to the 2002 report. The current building, built in 1984, is 5,600 sq. ft. Brinkley Sargent recommended a 16,300 sq. ft. facility to provide enough space for the next 25 years.
“All areas are in need of space,” read the seven-year-old report. “Several staff members share many of the offices with inadequate areas for general office and supervisory functions. The space for processing and storage of evidence is severely undersized and not properly ventilated…the vehicle sally port is extremely small…the facility does not meet current ADA or Texas Accessibility laws.”
“There would have to be substantial renovations or repair of this building or build a new one to solve these problems,” said Mayor Bob Kelly.
“My number one concern is the safety of our employees,” said Walker. “I can’t have people with wet feet touching an electrical system, and if it (the dispatch center) goes down it will affect our residents.”
“I think whether or not we should have done it earlier or not – it doesn’t matter,” said Cohen. “I think the time is more than right to do something about it.”