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Archive for Wednesday, April 28, 1999

SPACE EXPLORATION

April 28, 1999

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The need for more space for the Lawrence Police Department gives the city the opportunity to locate a second base of police operations in a different part of Lawrence.

It's easy to juggle figures to prove a point, but it doesn't appear any exaggerations are needed to make the case that the Lawrence Police Department needs more space.

The only question is where the city can find the most economical and efficient location in which to expand the department.

There seems to be little argument that the space is needed. Over the past decade, the department has added 27 officers and no new office space. Only one interview room serves the entire department. One in every seven officers doesn't even have a locker to dress from.

The Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, which houses the department, is crammed to overflowing, and officials have determined that expanding the building wouldn't be financially feasible. Both county offices and the district court are clamoring for the room that will be vacated when the Douglas County Jail moves to its new home east of Lawrence.

The police department has little choice but to look elsewhere, which is what City Manager Mike Wildgen is doing.

The plan is to find another location for a new police operations center with room for a communications center, a workout area, administrative offices, evidence processing and storage and other uses. One proposal is to spend an estimated $8.45 million to build the facility on land the city already owns on West 15th Street just east of the South Lawrence Trafficway.

Lawrence residents who have followed city construction projects for the last several years probably are suspicious that estimate would fall significantly short of the actual cost of the project. That makes it especially good news that Wildgen is looking at other alternatives that would be less expensive.

Those include existing buildings near Sixth and Iowa, on West Sixth Street, on East 23rd Street and on West 15th Street. If an existing building could be efficiently remodeled for the police department, it could mean a cost savings for local taxpayers. An existing building that cost too much to remodel or didn't provide room for future expansion, however, could be a poor long-term investment for the city.

One advantage of the police expansion plan is the opportunity it offers to provide a base of police operations in another part of the city. As Lawrence grows and spreads over a larger area, it only makes sense for police facilities to follow.

Along with fire protection and city water and sewer systems, law enforcement is a basic service that is vital to local residents. Police protection may not be a particularly fun item to spend money on, but it's necessary to our quality of life. The city should do its best to hold down the cost of the project and then move ahead with plans to give the police department the space it needs to provide efficient and effective law enforcement services.

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