After the tied vote, Buddy Lewis didn’t mince words.
“What are we to do? We want the best for our citizens in public safety. We want the very best … we get upset when we don’t think it is, but we can’t make a decision on where to build it.”
A full year after the Feb. 21, 2017 vote to proceed with plans to build a new department, the city is not much closer to turning dirt than it was last spring.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the city’s Finance and Administration Committee, a decision to finally decide on a location was expected.
“I came in to this meeting wanting this committee to do something,” said a frustrated mayor Justin Hanson. “I gave two recommendations and gave some options where we could save some money to pay for this facility.”
After a lengthy discussion, in which pros and cons related to both the old Grammar School site and the H.T. Hackney site were once again shared, the board was split in a three-way tie on a vote to build at the Hackney site.
Vice mayor Mac McGowan and alderman JereHadley voted in favor of it. Aldermen John Edwards and C.H. Sullivan voted against it. Alderwoman Minnie Bommer and alderman Drew Glass abstained from voting.
“Two to two to two,” said Sullivan, the committee’s chairman. “Don’t know that I’ve ever seen that …”
Sullivan said he would not have abstained had he known the vote would have gone the way it did.
Bommer abstained because she would like the board to look at the 2-acre property behind Krystal’s.
In the year since the board first decided to move its police department, the building has been inspected and determined to not only be embarrassing, in the chief’s words, but inadequate and hazardous to the health and well-being of officers and the public.
The agency had been at the East Pleasant location since 1998 and the building, constructed in 1957, had seen better days.
Lewis has been asking for a solution since he became chief nearly five years ago.
Last year, McGowan said, “If we can, we need to move on a new building expeditiously and purposefully.”
So what’s the hold up?
Picking a location
Determining the best place to put the new police department has been the biggest issue.
The city owns several pieces of land and the Industrial Development Board has offered to give the city a piece of property south of the sheriff’s office.
The former Grammar School property, vacated by the Tipton County Commission on Aging in November, is a 4.2-acre parcel near the center of the city.
Building here would involve the demolition of the old school, which is needed no matter where the department eventually goes, but that cannot be done until the property undergoes the conversion process because it is tied to a 1978 parks and recreation grant which limits its use.
The timeline on the conversion, which costs $10,000, is up to the state.
The other drawbacks to this location include its size, which Lewis thinks limits future growth, and its topography, which either requires a two-story building or increased cost to make an ADA-compliant parking lot for a one-story building.
The other location being considered by the board is an 18-acre property on Hackney Drive, near Mueller Brass Road and South College Street.
This location will allow for a one-story facility as well as future growth, including a possible relocation of the public works and E-911 departments.
It’s close to the jail, district attorney’s office, public defender and court system and will allow plenty of space for police and fire training, for instance.
The concerns which have the aldermen second-guessing this location, though, include potential traffic congestion during school pick-up and drop-off periods and increased response time because officers will be much farther away from the high-crime areas in which the police are needed and could be caught by a train, too.
Traffic should not be the hold up on the decision, said Lewis.
“That was a concern in 1997 when we moved the sheriff’s office out there,” he said. “To my knowledge, that hasn’t been an issue and it should not be an issue now. That’s two hours of the day, 180 days per year. My officers shouldn’t be sitting at the station at those times, anyway, they should be out on the street.”
Though several aldermen are in favor of going through with the conversion and putting the new building in the center of town for visibility, Lewis has always wanted the ID Board property.
“When you can get 18 acres for free, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a gold mine to get that opportunity.”
The price tag
Initial estimates a year ago put the project at $3-4 million, however, after working on the design, new estimates put costs over $6 million.
Late last year, city numbers made the project seem like it wasn’t going to be feasible, but Hanson made a presentation Tuesday which showed the city could save on health insurance costs, among other things, to the tune of $370,000 per year.
Lewis has been working with design and engineering firm A2H to cut costs on construction in various ways and the location factors into the building’s design, so that must be decided first.
Glass said he wanted to see more hard figures before voting and said long-term planning, such as projection on population growth and movement, should be considered before a location decided.
“I don’t think long-range planning is a bad thing. This is, arguably, the largest building project in the city’s history, we don’t want to mess up where we put this building now.”
One year later
One year into what was supposed to be an aggressive two-year timeline for construction, the police have moved out of the old building and split into three different ones.
Lewis has an office in the newly-opened civic center, on the top floor, and is feeling the stress of being isolated from the rest of the staff.
The patrol division is located next door, on South Main Street, and the investigative division is in the former library building at Church and College.
“We need a home and we’ve been dealing with this for quite some time,” said Lewis. “It’s hard to conduct business in several different locations.”
The aldermen, like McGowan, all agree it’s time to move forward.
“It’s time to start fishing,” said McGowan. “We’ve been cutting bait on this for too long.”
From here, the committee will meet every Tuesday afternoon until a decision has been made.
“It’s time for us to do something.”