The city of Independence has shelved plans for a new police headquarters and justice center for the time being.
That decision came earlier in the year, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic grabbed hold of the city, but all the emergency maneuvers and subsequent budget gymnastics for the near future mean the project won’t return to the table soon.
A new justice center that included police headquarters, Municipal Court and city jail would be on city-owned land at 23rd Street and R.D. Mize Road, next to the Utilities Center and Dispatch Center. The city had partnered more than a year ago with JE Dunn Construction to identify financing – potentially a community improvement district with a special sales tax – and, if successful at that, construct the facility.
But that partnership came apart early this year, City Manager Zach Walker said.
“Certainly the city doesn’t have the financial ability to do it, even pre-pandemic,” Walker said. “We didn’t want to do a citywide tax vote, and we had the idea of a CID. We know it will be a big undertaking to set it up, but that’s what we see as the best way.”
Another firm’s study in 2018 estimated a new facility would cost $34 million to 35 million – slightly less than the ideal remodeling and additions for the current police headquarters on Memorial Drive across from City Hall.
JE Dunn won the deal over a handful of firms. But a community improvement district, in which businesses approve a special sales tax for revenues to pay for a project, never materialized.
“Somewhere along line, their comfort level changed,” Walker said. “JE Dunn wasn’t comfortable taking that risk, so they decided to back away.”
Now that project, like many others in many cities, is on the back burner. But the need to examine police facilities remains.
The current police building was built in 1972 and received notable upgrades in 2015, including refurbished lockers, a rebuilt firing range and a new community room and records improvement. But in 2018 the city reported it also 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 is too small for the future.
“We need to grow, but the building doesn't support that,” Weir said.
Part of the voter-approved use tax last summer is going toward hiring more police officers – long seen as a city necessity – and cutting first-responder personnel particularly in the midst of a pandemic won’t happen, Walker said.
A newer police facility, he said, “is not a problem that’s going to go away.”