The city of Highland has hired an architect to design a new safety facility and revamp an existing fire station.
During the Highland City Council meeting on April 2, an agreement with Loyet Architects, an architectural firm in Highland, was approved. The firm will continue designing a new public safety facility and fire station renovations, which are now estimated to cost about $7 million.
"The $7 million is a general ballpark," said Highland Police Chief Terry Bell.
While there is no concrete design plan at the moment, Bell said the city has circled back to a combined public safety facility that will house the main operations of police, fire and EMS. He said renovations will also be made to Fire Station No. 1, located at 1115 Broadway, so the city can operate fire and EMS on either side of the railroad tracks.
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Loyet will take over and adjust a project plan that was originally outlined in 2012 by Williams Architects, an architectural firm from Itasca, Illinois.
As for location, while the city has looked at various existing properties as options, Bell said using an existing piece of city property would be more cost effective. The city identified a 10-acre piece of property on the eastern side of HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital as the location.
"We are assuming we will use half of that 10 acres," Bell said.
The City Manager Mark Latham said that property also means developing infrastructure will be cheaper. Initially, he said developing the whole piece of land would have meant about $1.7 million in cost. But, focusing on a smaller area will make those costs less than $100,000, according to Latham.
Aside from low development costs, Bell said the location has other benefits that the current police station, located at 820 Mulberry St., does not have.
"Both for location, the future growth of the city, and visibility," Bell said.
Between now and October, the proposal provided by Loyet states that the architects will work on finishing design development, gathering construction documents, and going out for construction bids. Construction and renovations are expected to begin on Oct. 1, and will last approximately 10 months, through August 2019.
"We believe we will save approximately two-thirds of the architectural costs by switching to Loyet for remainder of the project," Bell said.
Loyet Associates will charge the city 5.5 percent of the total project cost, which, in the end, comes to an estimated $365,750, according to Bell. The other proposal, obtained from Formation Architect's Inc. of Highland, was 7.5 percent of the project cost.
Loyet was involved in raising both the Highland Police Station and Fire Station No. 1, according to the firm's proposal. Other local buildings Loyet has worked on include Highland High School, the U.S. Bank building, SuperValu, the Wall Street Journal, the Basler Electric expansion, Evangelical United Church of Christ, Meredith Funeral Home, Louis Latzer Memorial Public Library, Highland City Hall interior renovations and more.
"We think it's going to be a positive outcome, and we're looking forward to moving into updated facilities, safer facilities," Bell said.
The city has been looking for a way to enhance its public safety facilities for several years. Improving the Public Safety Department was also identified as the No. 1 priority by the City Council when members were reviewing the city’s comprehensive plan in 2016.
The city's police station and Fire Station No. 1 were both built almost 40 years ago. Both locations also have an extensive list of problems, according to public safety officials.
According to city officials, that list includes, but is not limited to:
- Not being in compliance with American with Disabilities Act standards;
- The fire station has inadequate living quarters and amenities that do not accommodate men and women;
- Inadequate office, storage and evidence space;
- Structural issues like leaking roofs, collapsing retainer walls, crumbling driveways, rotting woodworking, steep stairwells and foundational issues;
- The police station is in a residential area, out of sight from the public eye;
- Lack of sally port, a prisoner transfer area, at the police station;
- No separate bathrooms for witnesses and police officers.
However, facility plan created by Williams Architects in 2012 was never pursued by the city as it was estimated to cost about $12 million.
"We just weren't able to make the money come around," Bell said.
But, the city's public safety facility and equipment needs continued to grow, and last July, the public safety chiefs voiced that something had to be done.
The chiefs came together and found that the department had needs that could not be met by the department's current revenue stream. Overall, the department found it would eventually need at least $1 million a year to fund equipment replacements and facility improvements. The chiefs also presented the city with several options for moving forward. However, a source of funding had to be found.
Last July, the city hired a economic development firm to explore the options for raising the city's sales tax.
A plan was brought forward to pass a sales tax in three "blighted" business districts within the city. For several months, the council deliberated over whether or not to pass the tax without voter approval. But, eventually the city council passed a 1/2-cent sales tax. The city will begin collecting the tax in July and will continue to do so for the next 23 years.
Before construction begins, Bell said the city needs to figure a few things out. At the moment, he said there is no set design for the building.
Bell said the facility will loosely follow a needs study conducted back in 2012. The study calculated what the Public Safety Department would need if the city's population were to reach 15,000. The 2012 facility plan, estimated to cost $12 million, was then designed around that study.
In the past, Bell was advised that if the city were to construct that plan today, they would need about $17 million. However, Bell said the city is working with the architects to scale back the design to cost about $5 million to $7 million, including renovations to Fire Station No. 1.
"So we have some challenges," Bell said.
To add to the challenge, Bell said that, even with assistance from the public safety sales tax, the department will have to get creative with funding.
"We know the monies that we have available, as much as we appreciate the council approving that sales tax, is less than we initially needed," Bell said.
The department originally requested a full 1 percent sales tax for the project, which was estimated to bring about an extra $1 million to the city. However, the council decided to pass a 1/2-cent tax instead. City Director of Finance Kelly Korte said the tax is now estimated to bring in about $700,000 to the city on an annual basis.
Bell said these monies will need to be split up for equipment costs, facility needs, as well as business district development.
"Obviously, a lot of it needs to go to this facility to make it viable," Bell said.
With a $7 million project, Bell said the department needs roughly $450,000 to $550,00 annually to cover a 20-year bond. But even with the constraints, Bell said the department is determined to make the project work. To do this, he said the department is considering several construction options, like pre-engineered structures, and cheaper material options.
"We want it to look nice, obviously. But more than anything, it needs to be functional," Bell said.
Bell also said that the department will also look at consolidating space, and creating areas that can be shared by all three departments, such as locker rooms, breaks rooms and conference rooms.
Bell also said that the departments will continue to work with their separate funds to see where a few more dollars can be found and look for opportunities to raise funds.
"We appreciate everyone's support in trying to get this achieved. We hope it's a win-win for everybody," Bell said.