Tempers Flare During Vote On New Police Station

October 27, 2009

Tempers flared at Monday’s city council meeting as officials debated which option to accept for the design of a new police station.

“Down the road, the council will look back and say ‘What kind of idiots were they who didn’t do it right the first time?'” said Mayor Pro Tem Bob Fry about the option the council eventually voted on.

Option 6 calls for a new police station near city hall, and renovations to the fire station.

The council approved a new police station near city hall, and renovations to the fire station.

The council voted unanimously to order design drawings on an option that would put a new two-story police station on the grounds of city hall, adjacent to the existing station, which would be torn down after construction.

But before the vote, it became clear that Fry and Council Members George Boehme and Steven Segal were anything but unanimous on the choice, but decided to vote for the option as a compromise.

“I am prepared to go with any of the plans to try to get consensus on this council to move forward,” said Boehme. He added later: “Unfortunately political decisions are rarely the best decisions.”

Originally, city staff recommended the council accept a different plan that would demolish the Public Works Building on Amherst Street and construct a new police station in its place. The current police station near city hall would be renovated as a new office for public works employees.

But after a council workshop on Oct. 19, it seemed most members wanted to vote for the different option. At Monday’s meeting, City Manager Michael Ross prefaced the discussion with a plea asking the council to still consider the staff-recommended option.

“Again, the staff does feel this is the best long-term solution,” Ross said. Segal, who said he had done some soul searching since the Oct. 19 workshop, took the plea seriously and put the question to other council members.

“The staff recommended it. The consultants recommended it. It’s the best option,” Segal said.

Option 9 calls for demolishing the current Public Works Building, constructing a new police station there, and renovating the existing station as a new office for pubic works. Fire station renovations are also included.

Staff recommended a plan that would demolish the current Public Works Building, constructing a new police station there, and renovate the existing station as a new office for pubic works. Fire station renovations are also included.

“Why are we turning that down?”

The main reason other council members went against the staff recommendation is because they don’t want to tear down the 15-year-old Public Works Building, which they said has life left in it.

They also don’t want to renovate the current police station and put public works employees there. Because that building is in such poor condition, the city would eventually have to build another new building for them, said Councilman Chuck Guffey.

Guffey earlier took issue with the upper-limit estimate that the architect said the city would need to pay for detailed design drawings. The fee also includes contract services like surveying and security system designs. Guffey said the $412,000 estimate was unreasonable because it was calculated as a percentage of total construction costs, $6.5 million, which Guffey said is too high.

“As a professional engineer, I can’t sit here and agree to this. It exceeds what I think is reasonable and rational,” Guffey said. “I think it needs to be redone.”

But Jeff Gerber, the architect the city hired for the police station design, said the $6.5 million estimate is consistent with what other cities pay for similar facilities.

“A police building isn’t a simple office building,” Gerber said. “There’s lots of components that make this more expensive than other types of construction.”

For example, he said, police stations must have jail facilities, very tight security, and design features for high-tech gear like 911 equipment.

“What you’re doing is beating this man to death right now because he’s made his best estimate,” Boehme told Guffey after he continued questioning Gerber about the cost estimate.

All of the squabbling made Monday’s meeting stand out from business as usual.

“It was one of the most interesting since I’ve been here,” said City Secretary Thelma Lenz, who has attended council meetings since she started working for the city in June 2008.

The next step is for Gerber, the architect, to bring back detailed design drawings that the council can use to collect competitive bids on the project.

“He can do the whole package by February,” Ross said about Gerber’s design. “Hopefully we can receive our proposals by February and begin construction in March.”

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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