An expected relocation will happen sooner rather than later for the Covington Police Department.
Discussed in the city’s public safety committee meeting Tuesday, safety concerns are prompting city officials to move the department to office buildings on South Main Street, across from the post office, in the next two or three months.
An inspection by the state fire marshal’s office Monday determined there were “quite a few things” that need to be dealt with, said chief Buddy Lewis.
In a letter, city attorney Rachel Witherington reportedly recommended the police department leave the building as soon as possible for the safety, health and well-being of officers and the general public.
“The letter speaks for itself,” police chief Buddy Lewis said. “We’re in the process of looking at places we can move to. “
The buildings on South Main, which are owned by the city as part of the Covington Municipal Center and have remained vacant since First Baptist Church moved to Hwy. 59 South six years ago, are “the only alternative” for a whole-department move, he continued.
The poor conditions at the current facility, at the corner of East Pleasant and North Maple, have been discussed for nearly a year, said alderwoman Minnie Bommer, and she was under the impression repairs had been made.
“It’s appearing like we’re not listening,” she told Lewis. “It looks like (concerns) have fallen on deaf ears. I thought we’d made it safe enough for you.”
Lewis said there was a debate wehther to spend $50,000-$200,000 to do “what needs to be done” or to save for a new building.
“Y’all need to get someplace safe,” Bommer said. “We don’t have a choice. Is this something we can do? We’ve gotta do it.”
The chief did not report on the specifics of the repairs deemed necessary by the inspection, but did say several need to be completed within 30 days.
The Leader reported on the unsafe conditions at the facility on Feb. 22 and 23, noting, among other things, electrical problems and water damage to ceilings and walls caused by a roof that consistently leaks.
On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the board gave mayor Justin Hanson authorization to proceed with building a new police department.
Hanson said this week that, rather than complete the entire list of repairs and wait until a new facility is constructed, the 30-day repairs will be made and the officers temporarily relocated until the new facility is ready.
“The current building has outlived its effectiveness,” Hanson said. “We’re wasting money.”
Hanson said the existing police headquarters, which was built in 1957, would likely be demolished after being vacated.
The two offices on South Main, which have been up for sale, will need renovations before the department can move in.
“We can made it work,” Lewis said. “We’ll have to deal with some things, but I can’t rationalize spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the current building.”
Lewis also recommended a maintenance person is hired to perform preventative work and complete repairs once they are moved.
It is not yet known when construction can begin on a new permanent facility or where it may be located. The spatial study, said Lewis, is still in progress, however the areas being considered are the site of the former senior center/grammar school at Church and College, a tract of land near H.T. Hackney on South College and an 86-acre property adjacent to Cobb Parr Memorial Park.