Homer City Council members made headway on plans for a new police station Monday during a facilitated work session. The council has been at odds over site selection, the scale and cost of the project, and had previously set its sights on a $6 million building. But council members agreed Monday that the cheaper option left out important features and hampered future expansion.
For the last four years, various city council members have been trying to push a plan forward that voters would approve. Homer residents shot down a $12 million option in 2016, and that has led council members to aim for a lower price tag.
The council has examined both $6 million and $8 million options at a vacant site off Heath Street and Grubstake Avenue, known as the Waddell site. It has also considered renovating the Homer Education and Recreation building, also known as the HERC, but it threw out that option Monday.
Council members have been attached to the cheaper $6 million plan at the Waddell site, but it also decided to increase that working figure to $7.5 million.
Most of the price hike would come from including a daylight basement rather than a building single-story structure with future plans for a second story.
“Once you build the first floor on top, then you’re only going up,” Meyer said of the current stick-build design. “If you do have a daylight basement, it allows you to go up as well as out,” Public Works Director Carey Meyer said.
Meyer told council members that an unfinished half-sized basement could be tacked on for about $900,000 and said that would serve most, if not all of the police department’s needs.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl had requested a 24,000-square-foot building in order to meet the department’s future and current needs and agreed with Meyer’s assessment.
The basement could also house other features left out of the $6 million plan, which would build a 9,500-square-foot facility. The basement plan may include a heated evidence processing area for vehicles and additional evidence storage.
Council member Heath Smith has been the largest opponent of increasing the cost of the project, but said he would support a $7.5 million design. However, Smith warned other members about the cost of a larger building.
“So we have to look at the scope of what a building is going to cost over time and the ultimate price tag that’s going to tag along with it,” Smith said. “We can break it down into these little micro things to say, ‘Oh, it’s not going to cost you but an extra cream every three weeks,’ but the reality is there’s an additional cost to every incremental size we put on the ground.”
Council member Rachel Lord pushed back, saying that council members need to focus on more than the cost. Lord said skimping on the design and building features now could lead to costly additions down the road, a point fellow member Tom Stroozas also made.
“That daylight basement square footage area does not have to be finished now. It can be finished at a point in the future,” Stroozas said. “The structure of the daylight basement portion itself can be built much more economically today than it would be in the future by adding additional storage. That would be the most cost-effective way to go”
City staff will return to architects with the updated price tag and design change. Depending on its size, a basement may also leave room to include other features Police Chief Robl prioritized such as an area to transfer prisoners and a jail cell dedicated for female prisoners.
Although the council made progress this week, several other topics such as funding the project will be hashed out next month. The city has set aside $2.5 million for the project already, and most council members indicated Monday they would favor asking voters to fund the remaining $5 million if the project comes in at the expected price point.
The council will pick up the discussion at its next work session on Feb. 26.