During a meeting Tuesday afternoon, Covington alderwoman Minnie Bommer questioned the time line of the new police department project which has been hamstrung by state and federal grant regulations.
Immediate need was her concern.
“When we started talking about this, we were talking about how soon they needed it. I mean, they need it. They’re in temporary housing now and we are still talking about the College Street property over there. I’m just concerned that we’re not going to get it done in 2-3 years. We say that, but we have a lot that needs to get done. I’d like to see this done before 2020 … I’d like to be here when they cut the ribbon on it.”
“Me too,” police chief Buddy Lewis chimed in.
The property on which the police department will be built was tied into a 1978 grant for $32,337 which funded the tennis courts and lights at the corner of College and Seminary streets.
The city can request a conversion, meaning the property will be free of regulated use as a park, but must first go through the process of spending $10,000 to make the request, have the property appraised, find a property of equal fair market value to house the tennis courts, receive public input and submit information to the state before the old grammar school building can be torn down.
Once that is done, construction can begin, but the city must wait on the state.
City attorney Rachel Witherington told the board of mayor and aldermen she conveyed to Gerald Parish, the director of recreational educational services at the state, the site has outlived its useful life. Parish reportedly told Witherington he would help expedite the process in his office as he understands the urgency to begin construction on the new police facility.
Constructing the facility on another property was also discussed, but most wanted to keep it at its planned location at the corner of College and Church streets.
A2H Project Manager Jeff Eakes said the city is at a “go or no go” spot, suggesting if their hands weren’t tied by the grant, the 2019 or 2020 date could “easily” be achieved.
Is it too big?
The facility itself was also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance and Administration Committee.
Having moved out of a 7,000 square foot building, alderman Drew Glass questioned why the new building is planned to be nearly four times as big.
Lewis said not only was the former building, which was vacated in August when the department moved into two annexes until the new facility is ready, too small for a department of 36, projected growth of the department was taken into consideration.
“And we didn’t have everything in that 7,000 square feet where we needed it, it was in other locations as well,” he told Glass. “Due to the layout of the property we’ve chosen, it’s going to be two stories, which increases the square footage.”
The new facility includes a community room, which will double as a court room, as well as indoor firing range, sally port and more.
The indoor range will be built into the hill on the property, which will help in reducing the noise. It will also double as a tornado shelter for employees should it be needed.
Lewis said it will be a one-of-a-kind facility in the area, a considerable upgrade from the outdoor range they’re embarrassed to claim.
“We have as sorry a firing range as you can have anywhere in this country,” he said.
Two weeks ago, the range was overgrown with grasses and weeds, its structures dilapidated.
They can use the one at the sheriff’s office, but it is inconvenient, he said.
“I get the sticker shock,” Lewis said. “It’s adequately sized. It’s not a Cadillac, but it’s not a VW bug, either.”
Among other things, alderman Mac McGowan called the department’s former building was “woefully inadequate.”
“It’s shameful the way our police force has been housed for the last 15 years,” he said.
As currently proposed, the new facility is projected to cost taxpayers an estimated $6.6 million.
Following presentations from A2H, its engineering and design firm, different financing options were discussed by both Tommy Green, with the Tennessee Municipal League, and Walt Downing with USDA.
The mayor and aldermen will be reviewing these options, as well as options which may reduce the cost of the facility, before the next meeting.
“I want to do this correctly,” said mayor Justin Hanson. “It’s imperative we do this correctly.”
The committee is set to meet again on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 1 p.m.