A new police department, or justice center, would cost the city of Gardner approximately $10.5 million. The figure doesn’t include the cost of land acquisition.
Andrew Pitts, a principal at Treanor Architects, told members of the city council they would need to purchase approximately 5.6 acres for a new justice center.
The existing police department building, located at 440 E. Main, is approximately 11,000-square-feet and sits on about a half acre of land.
The building — actual two connected buildings — lacks programming space, and has limited parking and limited options for expansion.
“It is not designed for a police department,” Pitts told council during a presentation on March 2.
The buildings are also about one-third of the size of what Pitts would recommend for the police department. This year, to house the department’s 32 officers and three civilian employees as well as records and other space, he would recommend a department building with more than 26,000 square feet of space. By the year 2035, he would recommend a building with more than 33,000 square feet.
Currently, the city’s court staff is housed at city hall, but under Pitts’ proposal court proceedings and staff would be moved to a new police station or justice center and the new building would include a community room.
Ideally, if officials choose to build a new station, they would build one big enough to accommodate 20 years’ growth with additional possibilities for expansion.
The city’s comprehensive plan assumes Gardner will grow by 1.3 percent annually — putting Gardner’s population at 27,200 by 2035.
Using industry standards, Pitt estimates that population would require a court and police force of between 47 and 54 employees. Currently, the city’s municipal court staff is housed at city hall.
Pitts proposed that the court staff and police officers be housed together in a one-story building.
Renovating the existing building would be possible, he said.
“It would require police to move out of the building while it was under construction,” Pitts said.
A complete renovation would cost about $2.5 million, but the upgraded building would not meet all of the department’s programming needs. One specific challenge at the existing building is its limited parking.
A police station, Pitts told council, needs enough parking to accommodate officers’ personal vehicles plus police fleet vehicles plus enough space for shift change.
“These staffing parking lots on police facilities are a lot larger because of that,” Pitts said.
He estimated a new building would need 113 parking spaces.
Council members suggested that it might be wise to consider building a space that can accommodate public works and a justice center or parks and recreation space and a justice center.
Council member Todd Winters suggested costs could be trimmed by eliminating the court space and community room from the proposal, or adding those as later phases of a project.
“Those are easier to pull out and do as a separate part,” Pitts said. “As you look at those two spaces having the court and the court clerk and community spaces — that’s roughly 10,000 square-feet. That’s pretty significant. You could build that into the future.”
City finance director Laura Gourley said it would be perfectly reasonable to stretch out financing to as much as 20 years for such a project. Police stations last for decades, she said.
Pitts said there may be some grants available to assist in some of the softer costs of new construction. He estimated that about $8.9 million would cover actual construction and related professional services. Another $1.6 million would be necessary for soft costs — or things like security equipment, technology and the cost of actually moving.
Typically, he said, there aren’t grants available for construction, but there are grants available for law enforcement equipment.
City administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee said staff will look at public works and parks and recreation facility needs.
“Once we have that, we’re going to come back with a discussion for all three (facility needs),” she said.
She estimated gathering information would take two-to-three months.
In other business, council members:
• were scheduled to hear a presentation from Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Director Greg Martinette. Mayor Chris Morrow said he anticipated introducing the new SWJCEDC president, but Martinette was not in attendance.
“We will get him back on a future council meeting,” Morrow said.
• held an hour-long executive session to discuss issues related to non-elected personnel.
City council considers building police station