Well, after more than five years of planning -- much of it poorly done -- a Salem City Council subcommittee has selected four possible sites in this town where a new 150,000 sq. ft. police facility could be built.
This happened tonight at a meeting in a third-floor conference room at City Hall.
Salem Community Vision has the answer to this question — a 75,000 square foot facility, 50% larger than the police facilities we have — with room on the site for expansion as the City grows in the future. Also, room on the site for surface parking — much cheaper than a parking structure. This can be built for just under $30 million. And then we also need to include $20 million for a seismic upgrade to our Library and City Hall (we love our first responders, but their lives are not more important than the lives of library users and city hall employees who might be crushed in collapsed buildings when the Big One comes).
However, the City Council subcommittee -- Mayor Anna Peterson and councilors Steve McCoid, Warren Bednarz, and Diana Dickey -- unanimously voted tonight to move ahead with planning for a 150,000 sq. ft. police facility that could cost around $70 million rather than $30 million (more than double the cost of a 75,000 sq. ft. facility, because a parking structure might be needed).
This was recommended by the consultants (the two men on the left of the photo above) in line with previous guidance provided by the subcommittee, though one of them admitted that "this is larger than what anybody expected."
The consultants seemed highly competent. But they're taking directions from the City Council subcommittee. And by nature, consultants want to please the people who are paying their bills. So it isn't surprising that what is being proposed arguably is a Police Palace that Salem citizens can't afford.
Especially since the price of a 150,000 sq. ft. building has pushed out all discussion of earthquake-proofing City Hall and the Library, which originally was part of the City's plan for a new police facility.
If this unwise proposal moves forward, and somehow were to become reality, police department staff would be enjoying a safe place to survive the Big One earthquake that is a matter of when, not if, while other employees at the Civic Center and patrons at the library would be in buildings that likely would collapse in a major seismic event.
This is why I wrote, "Why a new Salem police facility could cost many lives."
Anyway, the most interesting part of tonight's meeting was the selection of four possible sites where a new 150,000 sq. ft. police facility could be located.
The consultants were asked to pick three sites, but Mayor Peterson was so enamored with the block south of the Library, she agreed to pay the consultants more money to have them conduct a detailed site analysis of that location -- which didn't make the top three.
So, in order of the consultant's scoring, these are the most highly ranked sites:
#1: The old O'Brien auto dealerships property at Commercial & Division just north of downtown (129 points)
#2: The DT Storage property across from Boon's Treasury, close to #1 (106 points)
#3: The Windows to the West city-owned property across from City Hall (100.5 points)
#4: The block south of the Library between Commercial & Liberty (97 points)
I've scanned the last two pages from the consultant's presentation that shows the top eight sites, along with the criteria used to rank them.
Download Salem Police Facilty sites
It was obvious that the Mayor really wants a new police facility to be as close as possible to the Civic Center. For a long time she wanted it to be ON the Civic Center property, north of City Hall, next to and over Mirror Pond.
But this idea got squashed by citizen opposition to such an overpriced (it would require 300 spaces in a parking structure, at $30,000 each) and poorly located building. So now it looks like Mayor Peterson has her heart set on a police facility right across the street, either to the west or south.
However, these sites suffer from the same drawbacks the Mirror Pond site had: too small, high development cost. Like I said, the Commercial and Leslie site south of the Library didn't make the top three, so the Mayor had to demand that the consultants include it in the list of sites that now will get a detailed analysis.
Meaning, the consultants will lay out how a 150,000 sq. ft. building and 300 parking spaces could fit on each of the four sites. The sites adjacent to the Civic Center are considerably smaller than the minimum 3-4 acres recommended by the consultants, being just 2.3 acres each, so construction costs will be higher there.
Now the game-playing really begins.
The Mayor, and likely some other city councilors, will keep on pushing for an over-priced, overly-large police facility adjacent to the Civic Center. Wiser minds will recognize that a less expensive and smaller (yet perfectly adequate) police facility has a much better chance of winning approval from Salem's citizens.
Especially if the lower price allows for seismic retrofitting of City Hall and the Library.
Which, as stated before, was the original plan by City officials before dreams of a Police Palace began running through their heads.