I just got back from a 2 1/2 hour Salem City Council work session on a new police facility plan.
Being more than a little tired, decaffeinated, and looking forward to watching the newest episode of The Young Pope (a great HBO series), I'll just offer up a fairly short take on what transpired tonight, and maybe add on to this post tomorrow.
First, on a personal note I found it really satisfying to hear everybody talking about how to reduce the cost and size of the previous $82 million, 148,000 square foot police facility plan that was rejected by voters last November when Measure 24-399 failed.
Having led the fight against the ballot measure, yet recognizing that Salem needs a new police facility, just not the one that was previously proposed, it was deeply heartening to hear the Mayor, City Manager, city councilors, police chief, architectural consultants, City staff, and others agreeing that our community needs to find a PLAN B now that PLAN A was voted down.
Here's an overview of what transpired at the work session.
Two down-sized police facility proposals were put forward by City of Salem staff: (1) a 115,000 square foot plan that costs $64 million, and (2) a 127,000 square foot plan that costs $69 million. See:
The cost of seismically reinforcing City Hall (which kept being called the "Civic Center" for some reason, even though the Civic Center includes the nearby fire station, City Hall, and the Library) and the Library also came up for considerable discussion. See:
A citizen group chaired by John Hawkins had recommended that the 115,000 square foot police facility plan be combined with seismic retrofitting of the Library. Because seismic retrofits and other renovations to City Hall are more costly and complicated, it looks like this will be put off for a few years.
So the discussion among council members, and public testimony by me and others, centered on the need to make the Library earthquake-safe and the cost of the new police facility plans.
As you can see from the Library cost breakdown, only $6,459,000 of the $15,337,000 total is for actual seismic upgrades. The rest is basically for deferred maintenance of stuff that needs to be replaced/renovated. One question facing the City Council is whether it makes sense to include the deferred maintenance items in a new police facility bond measure.
I feel that it would be better to ask voters to simply pay for life-saving seismic retrofitting as part of a Public Safety bond that includes funding for a 115,000 square foot police facility. Paying for a new Library roof, plus electrical and HVAC repairs, etc., just doesn't seem like a wise thing to ask for in a bond measure. Isn't there another pot of money that can pay for these sorts of routine maintenance items?
An interesting part of the work session came when Garth Brandaw of the CB Two architectural firm provided a cogent explanation of why the Salem police facility is costing so much more per square foot than a Beaverton police facility. (I blogged about this yesterday.)
From my notes, this is how Brandaw explained $13.1 million of excess costs for the Salem police facility:
(1) $3.3 million is due to programmatic differences. Salem has a crime lab, bomb squad, special teams. This produces an extra cost in "hard construction."
(2) $4.6 million is due to special features of the site that make it more difficult to build on ($2 million) and a parking structure, since Beaverton has all surface parking ($2.6 million).
(3) $5.2 million is due to a higher 9% rate for cost escalation and contingency allowances; Beaverton used a 5% rate.
In part of my testimony, I thanked Brandaw for explaining this so clearly. I said that I didn't necessarily agree that these extra costs were necessary, but now the City Council knows what to look for as places to cut costs, if desired.
Near the end of the work session, Councilor Tom Andersen made a motion to have staff prepare a bond measure resolution to be discussed at another work session that probably would be held on February 21. Andersen wanted the resolution to be for a 115,000 square foot police facility and seismic retrofitting of the Library (seemingly the full $15,337,000).
Now, the problem with this, which I pointed out in my testimony, is that $64 million for a police facility plus $15 million for Library renovations totals to $79 million, which is just $3 million less than the $82 million bond voters rejected in November. Yes, now citizens would get a Library that is earthquake-safe, PLUS a new police facility.
But many voters may just look at the price tag, roughly $79 million, and think, "Didn't we just vote this expensive bond measure down a few months ago? I'm going to vote no again."
So after the work session was over I told Brandaw and other members of the architectural team from the DLR Group that they need to look at each of the "extra cost" line items and try to get their cost down as much as possible. For example, by reducing the escalation/contingency to 5%, as Beaverton used.
A 60-some million bond measure would be much more appealing to voters than a 70-some million bond measure.
After Andersen made his motion, Councilor Brad Nanke said he wanted to have staff come back with other draft resolutions. One for a stand-alone $64 million police facility, and one for a stand-alone $69 million police facility. That amended motion was approved, so at the next work session the City Council will be discussing three options: two stand-alone plans, and one plan for a 115,000 square foot police facility and seismic upgrades/renovations to the Library.
I believe that the last option is the best.
It would have the most appeal to voters, especially if the cost can be reduced to around $69 million or less. I couldn't support either of the "Nanke options," because I feel so strongly that it is wrong to leave people at the Library and City Hall unprotected when the Big One earthquake hits, while Police Department employees would be safe in a seismically-sound police facility after being moved out of City Hall into a new police facility.
Judging from the tone of what Mayor Bennett and city councilors said tonight, my bet is that the City Council will end up going with some version of the 115,000 square foot police facility plus the Library seismic upgrades plan. But I could be wrong. Several councilors sounded like they'd be happy with not putting forward any PLAN B on the May ballot, and wait for another voting opportunity.
Well, I've written more than I planned. Maybe I won't do an update. Time to watch The Young Pope...