Police, city staff address questions from school board on plans to build LPD facility near high school
photo by: Nick Krug
School board members on Monday night received more details about the Lawrence Police Department’s plans to build its new headquarters near Free State High School.
Some of the discussion revolved around a public discussion earlier this spring that board members were unable to attend because it conflicted with their regularly scheduled Monday night meeting. Police Capt. Anthony Brixius addressed those concerns, with help from city employees Amanda Sahin, Mark Hecker and Melinda Harger.
Board member Jill Fincher’s first question concerned whether there would be a firing range at the planned $17 million facility. The new headquarters are slated to be built immediately west of the Free State athletic fields, on a 29-acre site located between Wakarusa and Overland drives.
Harger, the city’s assistant director of utilities, said there were no plans to construct a firing range in the project’s first phase. There is some potential, however, to add a range in future phases, which have yet to secure funding. The project’s first phase is currently the only phase on the city’s five-year capital improvement plan, a factor fueling many of the questions asked by board president Shannon Kimball during Monday’s meeting.
“There have been other developments that have occurred around Free State High School that, at the beginning of the development process, it was supposed to be one thing, then years down the road, it became something else entirely,” Kimball said, adding, “I understand you don’t have the funds to do everything upfront, but there’s just a lot of unanswered questions.”
Many of the questions asked by community members during the question-and-answer session in April came from a desire to know what kind of activity would be occurring at the new headquarters, Brixius said.
“Part of that was, what kind of facility is this going to be?” he said. “I think there was some concern that there could potentially be holding cells or a jail. There’s going to be nothing of that sort.”
Brixius clarified that criminal suspects could be interviewed at the facility, and, if arrested, would be transported to the Douglas County Jail or another facility. The police department already interviews suspects at the downtown Judicial and Law Enforcement Center and its Investigations and Training Center, at 4820 Bob Billings Parkway.
The site of the new headquarters is at 5100 Overland Drive, north of the Walmart on Sixth Street. The property is currently owned by the city of Lawrence.
Board member Kelly Jones wanted clarification on the concerns shared at the earlier public session, asking, “There weren’t any questions about safety?”
Brixius and Harger clarified that most of the questions revolved around how the new headquarters would affect traffic in the already heavily trafficked area surrounding Free State High School. Harger said a traffic study will be completed soon, and Brixius said officers usually arrive for shifts at times that wouldn’t overlap with the start and end of the school day.
About 16.5 of the site’s 29 acres will be set aside for the new police headquarters. The rest will be developed into a new city park. Harger said the design and rezoning process for the park is expected to begin in late August or early September.
Because of the project’s uncertain funding for phase 2, Kimball said, there’s concern from community members that the acreage intended for recreational use might remain undeveloped in the years ahead.
“This piece of property has been zoned as recreational for close to 20 years,” she said. “And so, what I’ve heard from people in the area is, there’s some angst over the fact that everybody who lives out there bought into the promise that this was going to be a completely recreational piece of property, and now it’s not.”
With the development of the new police headquarters, there’s now an opportunity to create a master plan for the recreational space, which has been considered for a variety of projects over the years, said Hecker, assistant director of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department.
“The cool thing about this is we get a chance to interact with the neighborhood (in planning the park),” Hecker said, adding that the new park is “long overdue” and much needed in an area that has seen significant growth over the last 20 years.
Kimball asked that the city continue to seek input from district leaders in its plans. She also suggested that the next public forum be scheduled on an evening when school board members could attend.
Brixius agreed to keep the district and the school board informed, and Kimball said she “felt better” after having had Monday’s conversation.
“This is an important project, not just for the police department and the city, but it’s an important project for the neighborhood, the school and all those affected by it,” Brixius said.