Police want to build new headquarters near west Lawrence Walmart; $17 million project also may use no-bid process

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

City staff members want to build a new $17 million police headquarters facility near the Walmart store in west Lawrence.

At their meeting on Tuesday, city commissioners will decide whether to back that recommendation, or perhaps choose to locate the facility on property in eastern Lawrence near the Douglas County Jail.

The police department and City of Lawrence staff are recommending a site the city already owns, located at 5100 Overland Drive. That site, which is north of the Walmart near Sixth and Wakarusa, was picked over the other finalist site at VenturePark, an eastern Lawrence property closer to the Douglas County Jail. In total, staff members reviewed more than a dozen locations.

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Police Captain Anthony Brixius said one of the advantages of the Overland Drive site is access to main thoroughfares. He said the VenturePark property, by comparison, lacks access to arterial roads, apart from 23rd Street, and the Overland Drive site has options going in multiple directions.

“You can quickly get onto Wakarusa (Drive), you can quickly get onto Sixth Street or Bob Billings (Parkway) or a number of the artery streets,” Brixius said. “You can also get onto K-10 or I-70, so even getting to North Lawrence in a busier time would be a little bit quicker if you were actually responding from the station.”

Brixius said being close to the jail may have some potential advantages, but that police officers don’t spend a great deal of time at the jail and that officers normally go from the jail back out to their patrols as opposed to the station.

The city’s 2018 budget raised the property tax rate by 1.25 mills to pay for phase one of the police headquarters. The tax increase will cost the owner of a $175,000 home an additional $25 annually in city property taxes. The multi-phase, multi-year plan will create a law enforcement campus that would allow city police to potentially co-locate with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to save costs.

Previous direction from the City Commission was for the city to review sites it already owned, and 17 such sites were reviewed before the city arrived at the two finalists. A memo to the City Commission also states that although the Overland Drive site is not centrally located, the Planning and Development Services Department believes the more immediate and future growth in the city will occur west of the site, so it would become more centralized as time goes on.

Because the headquarters will be built in phases with no definite timeline of when the next phase will occur, Brixius said it is also important that the headquarters be close to the police department’s Investigations and Training Center, 4820 Bob Billings Parkway.

“I think that this allows for a bridge for however long that time is where the department can still communicate effectively and are able to visit with one another quickly if need be,” Brixius said.

Another factor cited in the decision is that using the VenturePark site for the police headquarters would remove the possibility of industrial or economic development on that acreage, according to the memo.

As part of the City Commission’s meeting Tuesday, commissioners will decide whether to designate 16 acres of the 29-acre site at Overland Drive for the police headquarters. The commission will also vote on whether to allow the city to use alternate construction contractor selection methods that would not include a bidding process.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

Contractor selection methods

City commissioners will consider a new policy that would make it easier for big projects like a police headquarters to be built without going through the city’s normal bidding process.

The city has historically used a Design-Bid-Build method for construction projects, in which the city first hires architects to come up with a design and then conducts a bidding process for the project. City staff is recommending that the city consider alternatives methods on future projects. Those include the Design-Build method, where a designer and contractor team are selected at the beginning of the process based on qualifications and a price set instead of opening the project for bids.

The staff recommendation states that such methods increase collaboration by involving the contractor early during the project design phase and can decrease costs and project timelines. The City Commission will vote on a new ordinance that would allow the governing body to authorize processes like Design-Build instead of the current Design-Bid-Build if it was “in the public interest.”

Tuesday’s action, however, would not automatically exempt the police headquarters project from the normal bidding process. City commissioners at a later date would have to decide whether to use the traditional bid process or an alternative method.