With the ever-contentious Rock Chalk Park recreation center project now past the bidding stage, perhaps next up for serious attention from the Lawrence City Commission will be the proposal for a new police department facility.
Although it’s been overshadowed by the recreation center hullaballoo, the police facility has been in the discussion stages for more than a year. The facility’s price tag is pegged at nearly $30 million, not including acquiring a site, if needed. Adding about 46 officers might push the total cost of addressing the department’s needs to $42 million.
Thursday evening, the department hosted at Free State High School a gathering for graduates of its 21 Citizens Academy classes and presented a compelling case for the new facility.
The staff now is split primarily between the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center at 11th and New Hampshire and the investigation and training center near Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. However, the department uses four other locations to house staff and to provide space for various components of its operations.
Representatives from Wilson Estes Police Architects and Treanor Architects Thursday outlined the deficiencies currently facing the department. The space in the JLE center is rented from the county, and there’s growing pressure from county departments and courts that is squeezing the police department out. Plus water leaks and electrical problems in an aging building not designed for today’s needs hinder police operations. Overall, the department’s total space is 52 percent deficient, the architects concluded.
What’s proposed to replace the current facilities is a $29,319,464 building of 103,239 square feet requiring 13.1 acres with more than 300 parking spaces to serve the city until 2032. (Use of multiple facilities, the police and architects said, does not usually become practical until a city’s population hits 150,000 to 250,000 or significant geographical issues are present in a community.)
The architects said they were confident in their cost estimates. They do not foresee a repeat of the city’s recent experiences in which bids came in significantly lower than the predicted cost of projects. In fact, they said, delays could drive prices up as contractors fill their schedules.
Both a sales tax and a property tax increase have been discussed as ways to finance the project, which has competed for attention and dollars with the library, the recreation center and the sewer treatment plant.
But as one person said after the Thursday presentation, “If someone’s breaking into your home, who’re you going to call? The librarian?”
Considering the probable 30 months it will take from authorization to completion of the project, it’s now time for the city to give serious attention to the best, most economical and most practical way to meet the police department’s needs.