A $30 million price tag has caused Lawrence city commissioners to take pause and ask for more planning on the issue of whether the city’s police force needs a new headquarters building.
Commissioners should be applauded for directing staff members to put together a comprehensive report on the future building, staffing and equipment needs of the Police Department. It is a sign the commission is set to do some serious planning for one of the city’s most vital departments.
But the city’s recent action also raises a question: What took so long?
Some members of the public may have been taken aback by the recent report from a team of consultants who said it will cost about $30 million to build a facility to house the entire operations of the Police Department.
But Police Chief Tarik Khatib quickly told commissioners that a new building was one of only several pressing needs the department faces. He said he still believes the city’s police force is about 30 positions short of its proper size, and equipment needs are quickly mounting.
At that point, commissioners said they wanted to take a big-picture look at the needs of the department. In fairness, city staff members have brought up police department needs in past years. But the issue hasn’t taken hold at the City Commission level.
Instead, issues such as a $19 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library, a proposed wastewater treatment plant south of the Kansas River, and, more recently, a major recreational facility in northwest Lawrence have attracted commissioners’ attention.
Those projects may have much merit on their own. But it is disappointing that when commissioners undertake these projects they don’t have a more robust discussion about what other large projects the city may soon be facing.
In these times, it is clear the city can only do so many large projects at once. City staff members never will be able to forecast every need, but commissioners ought to have a good idea of at least the four or five largest projects that reasonably can be expected to emerge in the next several years. Such a list would give both the public and the commission a chance to do some long range planning, and set some priorities.
The timing of all these recent projects raises a legitimate question of whether voters would have thought differently about the $19 million library expansion if they had known more about the pressing needs of the Police Department, and spent more time thinking about the future needs and uses of a library with vast changes in technology.
Those issues are in the past and city commissioners appear to be on the right track in evaluating the latest report regarding Police Department needs. Commissioners should ask questions about why the building seems to be significantly more expensive than many other buildings its size, and also should question the assertion by architects that it would be infeasible to build the project in phases.
But most importantly commissioners should ask the question that should never be far from their minds: What other city projects or needs are just over the horizon?