Council sees shortcomings in police station design

Nov 28, 2017

Police station preliminary design.
Credit Courtesy of the City of Homer

The Homer City Council took an in-depth look at a preliminary design for a new police station Monday. The design plan calls for constructing a new facility at the corner of Heath Street and Grubstake Avenue. The $6 million building would be a vast improvement over the Homer Police Department’s current facility, but the plan does come with some drawbacks due to financial constraints.

Police Chief Mark Robl told council members the roughly 9,500-square-foot building comes with plenty of upgrades. It includes a larger exercise room that will facilitate more physical and tactical training.

“This room is big enough that we’ll be able to do those things there without having to search for space in some of the schools like we’ve been doing now,” Robl explained.

The building also comes with a holding cell for minors, which are legally required to be held separately from the adult prisoners.

“That is not very often, but when it happens, every time it does, we’re in violation of federal law the way we have to do it now,” Robl said. “This room will put us kosher with federal law, and it’ll also give us a space to hold females when we don’t have juveniles in there. That’s another thing we like to try to do in the jail is maintain sight, sound and separation between female prisoners and male prisoners.”

But the design also comes with its drawbacks. The council asked Robl to work with Stantec, the architectural firm contracted for the project, to design a $6 million building. Those financial restraints left out an enclosed transfer area for prisoners, also known as a sally port and a climate-controlled evidence processing area for vehicles.

“Evidence storage in general, I think we’re going to be a little short on that,” Robl added.

Mayor Brian Zak, who participated over the phone, told the council while the design  came in at the requested cost, the potential shortcomings need to be considered.

Potential police station floor plan.
Credit Courtesy of the City of Homer

“There are quite a bit of additional features that would have otherwise been requested had there been additional funding. So, I just want us to be sure that we’re comfortable moving ahead at the lower cost,” Zak added.

Robl told the council that these features could easily be added in the future and that the design could accommodate a second story when the police department outgrows the building.  

Council member Rachel Lord expressed concern over how soon add-ons and an eventual expansion would be necessary, but Robl told the council the design should suffice for several years.

“This building has a reasonable span of at least 10 more years before you have to add onto it,” Robl responded.

He quickly noted that was just an estimate, and added that when the need for additional space will come really is the million-dollar question.

Robl plans to gather cost estimates for more immediate needs such as evidence storage and bring that back to the council when it revisits the issue in January.

Council member Donna Aderhold asked that her colleagues think about other large factors in the meantime.

“I think some of the discussion topics that we still have in front of us are have we landed on a building location or is the HERC site still in play?” Aderhold said. “What are the appropriate building costs? How are we going to pay for it and then finally whether to maintain the current contract we have with Stantec?”

The council will rehash the design and attempt to answer those additional questions during an extended work session on January 29.

The project also received a funding boost during the council’s regular meeting. The council approved pulling $1 million from the city’s Health Insurance Fund, and it dedicated about $670,000 to the project. The move will be finalized when the council approves the 2018 budget at its meeting on Dec. 11.