LEC decision is in county's courtIt appears the city of Alexandria is on board for a new joint Law Enforcement Center (LEC) for the Alexandria Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
It appears the city of Alexandria is on board for a new joint Law Enforcement Center (LEC) for the Alexandria Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Although no action was taken at a joint meeting between Alexandria City Council members and Douglas County commissioners Monday night, council members openly said they would vote yes for the project.
Nearly 20 city and county officials attended the work session, including all five council members, the mayor, all five county commissioners, the police chief and the sheriff, along with attorneys from both the city and the county.
In addition, there were representatives from ORB Management, Ringdahl Architects and Wold Architects.
The cost – $11,950,000 – and the size of the project – 57,500 total square feet – were key pieces of information talked about at the almost two-hour-long meeting.
Both sides expressed concerns over the cost of the project and the burden it would put on taxpayers.
Representatives from the architect firms and construction management firm presented both boards with information about the project, including costs, space requirements and preliminary drawings.
After the presentation, council members and county commissioners shared their thoughts about the joint project.
“Our first choice is to have a joint LEC,” said city council member Sara Carlson. “We have been pressed for a long time for space and not being in compliance. That’s a huge deal. As a city, we need to take the responsibility. We need to do something.”
The “not being in compliance” Carlson referred to stems from the police department not having enough space for its evidence.
During the meeting, Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels, when asked about space needs for evidence, said, “Evidence is critical. At this time, we have nowhere to go. We are not in compliance with state standards and we need to be.
“Something needs to be done,” added the chief.
Council member Cindy Bigger shared her frustrations, “We know we need space. We know that. What we have isn’t conducive, but can we afford it given the times? It is a good time to build. But can we – I and other citizens – take another 9 percent increase in our levy?”
Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, when asked about space needs for evidence, indicated that his department is also out of space but in compliance at this time. However, he noted that there are two separate locations for evidence, which complicates things at times.
After more discussion about the needs and the cost of building a new joint center, one of the county commissioners asked Bigger if she thought it would be a unanimous vote from the city council to move forward with the joint LEC.
She replied, “It’s unanimous. We will go there alone or we will go there with you.”
County Commissioner Bev Bales said that at the time when the two entities started discussions about a joint LEC – several years ago – the economy was different. She also noted that after the new Douglas County Jail is up and running, the whole third floor of the current Law Enforcement Center would be open and available for use.
“It’s structurally sound and we’re sure not talking $12 million,” she said.
City council member Dave Benson asked Bales, “Who were you proposing to put up on the third floor?” to which she replied she wasn’t sure.
City Administrator Jim Taddai, who led the meeting, asked why the current LEC couldn’t be remodeled.
Paul Ringdahl from Ringdahl Architects said, “You could certainly do that but there are problems.”
Two of the problems, he noted, were cost and layout of the facility.
Ringdahl indicated that if the county considered doing a remodel of the current facility, it would probably run into a slew of problems – roof repairs, mechanical issues, windows, exterior walls, etc. In addition, the state fire marshal would require a new sprinkler system and the list would go on, he said.
Council member Owen Miller said that any remodel project he has been involved with has never come out like it was supposed to. The costs are always higher.
“They were good solid buildings when you started, but there are always issues. There are those unknowns that can add up in a hurry,” Miller said.
County Commissioner Jerry Johnson said that when the conversations started about building a new joint LEC, the cost was substantially less.
“I am suffering sticker shock here,” he said.
Chief Wyffels talked about the process and said the size of the facility has changed at least three times over the course of the past several years. The current square footage estimates represent the true needs of the city.
“I speak only for the police department,” said the chief.
The size, however, was reduced from the first original plan after the city and county worked together and hired joint architect firms to hash over the needs of both departments, he added.
County Commissioner Dan Olson said it was not necessary to rehash old history.
“We have a new task at hand,” he said. “That’s history, be it whatever it is.”
Olson asked Tom Reddick, the county’s auditor/treasurer, if the county bonded for the joint LEC, when would it have to be done in order for the project to move forward.
Reddick said the bonding would have to be done for 2010 in order to be ready for next year’s construction season.
Commissioner Johnson asked what would happen, as far as the records departments were concerned, if the two entities split – the county staying in its current facility and the city moving and building a center for itself.
Reddick said it would present challenges because both records departments operate on the same system and a fiber-optic line would have to run from one facility to the other.
Reddick then commented that there will be a lot of technical needs coming in the future – more than bricks and mortar, he said.
Council member Carlson pointblank asked Johnson, “Are you hoping the city moves out so that you have the room? Is that what you, the commissioners, want?”
The commissioners shook their heads no.
Johnson then said, “I don’t think anyone wants that. It’s just unanswered economic questions right now.”
Council member Elroy Frank shared his comments with the county commissioners, “We need to provide a service to our community. If you walk away now, you are telling the community you don’t want to work with us. That is the worst we can do for this community.”
He also told the commissioners that they need to bear some of the costs now – along with the “burden and BS” and that this project is a long time coming.
No decisions were made at the meeting by either the city council or the county board.
The joint LEC is on the agenda for the next county commissioner meeting, which has been set for Tuesday, September 8. Bill Schalow, the county’s coordinator, is set to talk about the joint LEC shortly before 10 a.m.