City officials don't yet have a plan to pay for a multimillion dollar police headquarters, but they may have a site for such a facility by the end of the year.
City Manager David Corliss said he, the police chief and other city officials are scheduled to begin touring potential sites in the next several weeks. The city has $1.5 million set aside in its 2014 budget for site and architectural services related to a long-talked-about police headquarters.
"We hope to solidify a location, and perhaps have some architectural renderings created," Corliss said of his goals for the $1.5 million in funding.
But the city won't wait until 2014 to get the process started. Corliss said he thinks it is likely that his office will deliver a site recommendation to commissioners by the end of this year.
City may sell West Lawrence tract
Don't look for a seven-acre tract that the city already owns in West Lawrence to be a leading contender for the headquarters.
Corliss said that land, near the southeast corner of the future interchange of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Bob Billings Parkway, will be studied, but is unlikely to meet the criteria.
"It really is not large enough and it is not centrally located," Corliss said.
The city has owned the property since the 1990s, when it decided to purchase vacant ground to get ahead of the city's westward growth. Possible uses mentioned at the time were for a police substation, a fire station or maybe a small park.
Corliss said he is likely to ask commissioners to consider selling the property in the future.
"Once that interchange is completed, the property will be at its highest value," Corliss said.
Corliss said commissioners always could decide to keep the property for future uses, but he said he does not see any recommended city use for the property in the immediate future.
City Commissioner Terry Riordan said that sounds good to him.
"I think the sooner the better," Riordan said. "I think by moving ahead with the site process, it would be a visible sign that we really mean what we say about the Police Department's needs."
The department currently has a large portion of its force split between two facilities — the joint city-county Judicial and Law Enforcement Center at 11th and Massachusetts and the Investigations & Training Center near Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive. The department also has several other smaller facilities, such as a parking control office and an evidence storage building, scattered throughout town.
Commissioners have had budget discussions about building a new headquarters, but the potential price of the project has made a politically palatable funding plan difficult to find. Last year staff members estimated it would require anywhere from a 0.25 percent to a 0.35 percent sales tax to fund a new $24 million police headquarters facility and additional staffing. City officials at other times have studied various property tax increase plans to fund a facility.
Corliss said finding a site before agreeing to a funding plan for the entire facility may be helpful because a specific site will help the city further refine costs.
He said the city ideally will be looking for a site from 10 to 13 acres in size.
"We want to have adequate parking, adequate storage and some ability to grow," Corliss said. "You obviously could grow a building up, but sometimes it is less expensive to grow on a site that has more acreage."
Corliss said other factors to consider will be a central location that has easy access to key facilities such as the county jail, district and municipal courts and City Hall.
Both Corliss and Riordan said they would like to have more conversations with Douglas County about a joint facility that could house both the police and sheriff's departments. But both also conceded the logistics of such a center may be difficult. Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern previously has said he would be concerned about moving his department's offices away from the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center because the Sheriff's Department is responsible for providing court security.
Whether the existing judicial center grounds and parking lot could be redeveloped to accommodate a larger joint facility is questionable, Riordan said.
"I think it would be ideal to have more communication with the county," Riordan said. "But it may be a very tricky thing to combine the two. If we can do it, great, but if we can't, we still need to move ahead to address our Police Department's needs."