JE Dunn Construction's work with the city of Independence develop plans for a possible new justice center – to at least house police headquarters, Municipal Court and the city jail – will last well into this spring.

The City Council voted last December to partner with JE Dunn, asking it to reaffirm the findings and recommendations of last year's police facilities master plan from earlier this year, hold four public forums, develop a preliminary budget and schedule, evaluate repurposing the current police building, and review financing options and help secure the most appropriate one(s).

In an update Monday to the council, JE Dunn Vice President Michael Collins outlined a pre-construction plan that goes through May.

The master plan, presented in February 2018 by Hoefer Wysocki Architects, weighed the pros and cons of building out and remodeling the current facility on Memorial Drive compared with a new facility at 23rd Street and R.D. Mize Road, near the Utilities Center and dispatch center.

Hoefer Wysocki showed that all the necessary remodeling and addition to the current facility would cost slightly more than a new justice center and would leave no room for future expansion. A new facility, estimated at $34 million to 35 million, could be built in a couple phases and have room for expansion over decades. A regional crime lab could be added at such a site, and JE Dunn plans to provide an estimated square-foot cost for cost for that.

“We want to unpack that a little more,” Collins said of the Hoefer Wysocki study.

The current police building was built in 1972, and received notable upgrades a few years ago, including refurbished lockers, a rebuilt firing and a new community room and records improvement. But last summer the city reported it also had spent $1.85 million in police facility maintenance over the previous three-plus years and identified more than $10 million simply in deferred maintenance, not including future additions or additional parking.

The bottom line, Mayor Eileen Weir has said, is the current facility has some inherent design flaws and too small for the future, especially if the city is able to hire more police officers as it the mayor says it needs to do.

“We need to grow, but the building doesn't support that,” Weir said.

The financing plan initially floated for a new justice center involved a community improvement district to pay for bonds. Part of JE Dunn's work will be to determine how feasible that would be. A proposed community improvement district would include major city corridors relatively near the would-be site of a new facility.

“We're in the discovery phase,” Weir said.

Council Member Karen DeLuccie said she isn't completely convinced a new building is necessary, especially without defining a continued use for the current facility.

“It's very important to see that you keep a police presence here,” she said.

“We hear loud and clear from the council,” City Manager Zach Walker said about continuing to use the existing facility. “You're going to have a lot of actions with this where the council decides to pump the brakes a bit or pump the gas.”

Collins said the public forums – one in each of the four council districts – would happen in the spring.

“What I'm hearing from citizens,” Council Member John Perkins said, “they want officers in the car, out in the community, making those response times happen.”