As noted in a previous post, I liked Kasia Quillinan's remarks at a meeting of the task force that is charged with advising on the location and cost of a new Salem (Oregon) police facility.
Quillinan is a former City Councilor who currently is active in the Salem City Watch organization and other civic affairs.
After I asked if her remarks had been written down and could be sent to me, she shared the following. I've mildly edited her piece for clarity, adding a few explanatory remarks in brackets. Quillinan makes a lot of sense.i
Why are officials at the City of Salem continuing to push for an over-priced police facility on the Civic Center campus when that doesn't meet the siting criteria established by a City Council subcommitte?
It's time to stop the Civic Center madness, thereby saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and giving the Salem Police Department a better designed facility.
Here's what Quillinan wrote:
The need for a new or upgraded police facility is recognized by the community at large. There is no question that the current police facility on the first floor of the Civic Center has become totally inadequate for both current, let alone future, police activities. The Task Force [on the Police Facility] has recognized this need, and it is believed that the public does also.
The purpose of this Task Force was to “explore options to deliver Council’s goals for the Police Facility.” In addition, the Task Force was to decide how big the Facility should be, and where it should be located.
In 2007 the City Council’s stated goal was to “Locate the Police Department into a new building to make use of space at City Hall.” While not a model of clarity, this appears to state a preference for a new building in order to allow for other uses of the space at City Hall. Several years of council subcommittee review, consultants, and design efforts followed. Among other things, the council subcommittee developed a set of criteria for assessing the feasibility and practicality of many specifically identified locations about the City.
The criteria developed for Alternative Site Analysis were as follows:
1. Site size: 4 to 10 acres,
2 .Building size: Approximately 75,000 square feet
3. Provide approximately 210 parking spaces for police, visitors, and employees
4. Location: central location, street access in all directions (preferred on an arterial street)
5. Ensure neighborhood compatibility
6. Avoid environmental hazards
7. Look for Urban Renewal or redevelopment potential
8. Minimize loss of property tax revenue.
The council subcommittee concluded that the “primary difference between the Civic Center site and the alternative sites is the underground parking….” at a cost difference of $9-$16 million.
The original cost estimate for the Police building on the Civic Center site was just under $30 million including $5 million for soft costs such as engineering fees, furnishings, and bond issuance expenses, but does not include the stated $16 million for underground parking. It is unclear whether these costs include some portion of the estimated $15.2 million for seismic upgrades to the Civic Center.
The Task Force believes that the Police Department is entitled to a modern facility, the best that the City is able to buy. The Police Facility should be easily accessible to the public, reasonably friendly and attractive. The Salem Police Department is generally held in high regard.
Civic Center Location
Some arguments have been made that the Civic Center location is the best option. If the Civic Center is analyzed in light of the criteria established for "off-campus" locations, the Civic Center clearly becomes the least desirable alternative. Retaining the police department at City Hall presents numerous difficulties.
Among them are:
(1) The Civic Center is a difficult and small site. A three story building would sit on about an acre. There is no viable way to achieve a much larger site. Even a one acre site requires removal of green space, a signature city water feature (Mirror Pond), and likely loss of proposed trails to RiverFront Park. The Civic Center site does not meet the 4 to 10 acre criterion. The DLR Group, a national architecture firm with experience in designing police facilities, determined that given the size of our police force and operations, 6-8 acres is preferable, with 6 acres as the minimum.The proposed Civic Center site is 1-plus acres.
(2) The Civic Center site does not allow for future expansion. Theoretically a three-story 75,000 sq. ft. building should be large enough for some future expansion, but it lacks the design flexibility to meet future new uses when they arise. The City should plan to build a facility with a 40-50 year life span. The proposed building is potentially obsolete in 10-15 years.
(3) The Civic Center location requires underground parking. City staff has proposed 210 parking spaces. The DLR Group indicated that 300 spaces would more likely be needed in order to accommodate police vehicles, civilian staff, those attending Municipal Court, and other visitors. According to DLR, surface parking costs $4000 per space as compared to $35,000 a space for underground parking. This is not a good use of borrowed money.
(4) The Civic Center is seismically unsound, is subject to flooding from Willamette River and Pringle Creek, and the new facility would be built on unstable soils.
(5) The Civic Center location has limited accessibility to users, caught as it is between two of Salem’s most congested city streets. Surface parking helps the flow of vehicles with easy in and out for police. Underground parking also creates exiting problems for police vehicles, especially in an emergency.
In summary, based on the key siting factors of size, acreage, flexibility and design, accessibility both to police and public, and environmental concerns, the Civic Center location is not the right choice.
An alternative site of 6 or more acres somewhere close in to the Civic Center (a centralized location) has many advantages over the Civic Center site.
(1) It is much less expensive, largely due to the cost of surface parking vs. underground parking, and easier construction.
(2) It can be built on higher land or further away from the river or creeks, alleviating some risk of flooding. It can be built to the new seismic standards without costly retrofitting.
(3) A good location can provide for more public accessibility and easier access for police.
(4) An off-campus location will allow for better design configuration and expansion possibilities for a 40 + year life span.
(5) The Municipal Court and EMS [Emergency Medical Services] can be included in separate buildings on the same site, if necessary.
The City has proposed a Bond measure for $80.5 million. The public would likely support the concept of a new police facility and may well support seismic retrofitting of City Hall and the Library. However, there will likely be significant community opposition to a single large bond and it may well fail, resulting in lost time and additional costs for a second try to pass a bond.
The question of the cost of the facility, which according to DLR is in the range of $245-$320 per square foot, is still to be decided but should be less than $40 million, especially if an alternate location is selected due to lower overall costs. Two separate bonds, one for the police facility and one for seismic upgrading of City Hall and the Library, would likely have more chance of passing, although there is always the chance that only one of them would pass.
Furthermore, since land costs tend to go up, the City stands to save money by purchasing land soon. The City should pursue many different financing strategies in order to secure sufficient funding to purchase a suitable location as soon as possible, perhaps even before putting a bond on the ballot.
An off-campus location [away from the Civic Center] is the only option which is cost-effective and likely to be supported by the community at large.
KQ [Kasia Quillinan]