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Lynn Spruill: Moving the goal posts (again)

 

Lynn Spruill

 

 

Just when we thought we had a workable plan. We were so close. And yet there seems to be no end to the Police Department building saga. The Board has now sent the architect and the police chief back to the drawing board to re-evaluate the program. 

 

The bids came in for more than a million dollars over the amount the board had approved for the building renovation bonds. The architect had estimated that $5.4 million would do it and get us everything needed for the building to be a good and serviceable home for the police.  

 

Apparently the construction bidding gurus weren't quite as sanguine about the costs of doing the work. So what next? We have tried to move the police department all over town. Since the mid 1990's it has gone from Highway 12, the airport, East Lampkin Street, and Highway 182 with no success.  

 

Back in 2004 the proposal was for a $5 million bond issue for new construction on land we also already owned at the airport. It makes the current proposal look a bit less outrageous when we know that was the proposed new construction costs from more than 10 years ago.  

 

We even had an election coup back in 2005 when Dan Camp was swept into office over the dispute about the reverse referendum and the chosen location. Since then there have been four attempts at three different locations; three different elected boards and we still have no police station.  

 

We had finally settled on the former city hall building. It has strong military ties as an armory and is built like a fortress. It could probably withstand a tank attack. It is perfectly suited for a para-military force. 

 

The city already owns the land and the building. It involves gutting and then reconfiguring the interior, a new roof and a new parking lot. Nothing out of the ordinary for a municipal regentrification of sorts.  

 

During the Camp administration when we were looking at the old Millsaps' (now Starkville Daily News) building I attended a four-day seminar in Austin, Texas, for police department project management and construction. Since I was proposed as the construction manager, it was a good indoctrination. 

 

We saw a number of options and toured several facilities that served police departments in various locales. The takeaway was that police departments all follow much the same program of needs varying mostly in space as determined by the role and size of the force.  

 

Needs include interview rooms, a few holding cells, an area to off-load suspects, admin space, arsenal space, etc. you get the idea. It isn't rocket science, but it is very specialized. For the skilled architect, all it should take is some individualized design work to make it thoughtfully functional and reasonably attractive.  

 

The work comes in making sure that the police force needs are the ones that fit the community it serves. For example, Starkville doesn't really need jail space. We should have a few holding cells but the jail space we utilize is available to us through the sheriff's office. Our take home fleet gives us some flexibility that other cities don't have in readiness requirements like lockers and multiple showers. Is it really necessary that the police have their own work-out space? The fire department uses the wellness center and so can the police department. Computers and Internet access in patrol cars have changed how police work is done.  

 

All these are considerations that should be measured and placed along the scale of wants and needs and what can be afforded. Starkville doesn't have the public stomach for much above necessities; we have proven that time and time again.  

 

Without being too simplistic, we need to jettison the devotion Starkville has for the now 13-year-old Brinkley-Sargent report. According to the minutes of the board, that report cost the city about $90,000 in 2003. I would argue that our slavish adherence to it is now costing us a chance at having a facility at all.  

 

If we go back to the drawing board and start afresh with a new search for land and new construction, the cost will be well above the proposed cost of the renovation that we have so soundly rejected as too much. If you want to kill our chances at a police facility that meets the needs of the department by all means, start the process all over again.

 

 

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