It isn’t ideal, but building a new police station east across the street from the current facility on what is now a city-owned parking lot will better meet the Great Bend Police Department’s current and future needs, Police Chief Cliff Couch said.
“This isn’t a perfect plan,” Couch said, addressing members of the City Council Friday afternoon at a special luncheon meeting called to examine remodeling or replacing the current 80-year-old station. But, “it’s a good balance.”
The council, Couch, City Administrator Howard Partington and other city officials met at the Municipal Courtroom to discuss a Police Department remodeling study and its recommendations. They also toured the building and saw first hand the problems with the aging structure.
In the end, the council gave the nod for Couch and company to proceed.
“We don’t think this is an extravagant project,” Partington said. “We believe it is reasonable.”
Couch and Partington recommended the new building on the quarter block at the corner of 12th and Williams from a list of 13 options based on an engineering study done by city’s on-call engineering firm, Professional Engineering Consultants, and with PBA Architects, both of Wichita. These ideas ranged from completely remodeling the current office to buying new ground and building from scratch.
The size and scope of the new police station has not been determined. It may or may not have a second floor, and it may or may not have a basement.
Therefore, there was no cost estimate available. It will be done in phases, moving the patrol, detective, administrative and records divisions to the new site first while still utilizing the existing garage and evidence vault. The current offices will become storage.
Convenient? Not really, Couch said.
But, it is a compromise he is willing to make.
By going this route, Partington said the city can tap its reserves to pay for the project. There will be no tax hike or bond issue needed.
Then, as money becomes available, more can be added. Funds for water, sewer and street repairs will not be impacted.
As plans develop, they will be brought to the council for approval.
As a side benefit, this will allow for a much-needed expansion of the municipal courtroom by utilizing what is now the GBPD’s squad room. The courtroom is not in the original part of the building and was built in the 1990s.
City officials said there may be some grumbling about the loss of public parking, but their options are limited.
Looking at the options
Every police chief would like a new station, Couch said. But, he was too stingy and did what he could to see about shoe horning the department into the old structure.
But, “this is an old building,” he said.
There are many handicapped accessibility problems, a reoccurring sewer smell that has baffled plumbers and other plumbing issues, problems with the heating an air conditioning and outdated electrical systems, Couch said. These issues alone will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair.
Compounding this is the layout itself. Years of remodeling have created a patchwork layout with wasted and unusable spaces. Now, there is a need for a larger squad room and a conference room, as well as more efficient room for offices.
Built in 1938, it once housed all of the city offices, including police and fire departments. Now, there are a number of security, age-related and infrastructure woes.
“I wanted to gut and renovate and continue to live here,” Couch said. Structurally, the building remains sound.
But, the architects said there was no way to redesign it to meet current needs.
In addition, the GBPD must store supplies in closets tucked in scattered nooks and crannies. Records are scattered as well, with some being stored at the Great Bend Municipal Airport.
There has been some new carpet and paint, but those are only lipstick on a pig, officials said.
The engineers told Couch and Partington it would cost between $120-150 per square foot to remodel versus $150-180 to build new.
So staying put might save a little money, preserve the historic value of the building and keep it in service. But, many of the underlying problems would remain.
“We need a lasting solution,” Couch said. “We’re past Band-Aids.”
It was during the city’s budget-planning time in 2016 that the need arose for more efficient space for police activities. The assessment gave a better idea of what currently exists with respect to structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical issues.
“It was a good road map,” Couch said Friday of the report.
Apparently, the edifice was built in 1938 as part of the City Auditorium. At the time, the front portion that houses the Police Department also held the City Office and Fire Department.
At the direction of the council, Couch in September of last year came up with three options: Build a new headquarters, relocate the department to a new, existing location, or extensively remodel the existing office.
As for moving, there were few options. The back office portion of the Great Bend Events Center was discussed.
However, that would still been renovating. The department would only need a portion of the area, leaving the rest hard to rent. Plus, with competing uses, parking would be at a premium.
Council members suggested moving the municipal court to a different site, expanding over the existing garage and/or out in front, and closing the alley between the PD and the current City Office.
One advantage the current office has is its convenient downtown location. The option approved Friday maintains that.