Casper City Council Grapples With Need for New Police Station
The Casper Police Department's facilities are (pick one or several or all):
- Out of code.
A memo from Chief Keith McPheeters and Capt. Shane Chaney to City Manager Carter put it this way: "Currently, storage closets and janitorial spaces have been converted into office spaces. Offices meant to hold one workspace now have three people juggling to use the limited space."
The Casper City Council at its work session Tuesday reviewed options about the police department housed in the mid-1970s-era Hall of Justice, 201 S. David St., which is shared with the Natrona County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office.
McPheeters presented the concerns to the council, saying the police department has never had a home of its own, and that affected its ability to provide public safety.
The department operations are scattered at the Hall of Justice, the dispatch center in the Nerd Gas Building on the city's east side, the City Center Building, the Market Street Garage, and parking for police vehicles at the southwest corner of David and A streets.
In October 2018, the council hired the Police Facility Design Group, PA, to review the department's properties.
McPheeters cited some of those findings, saying current the 40,000 square feet used by the existing facilities should be 74,000 square feet now just to maintain operational efficiency, and that size would need to be more than 85,000 square feet by 2039.
The Police Facility Design Group looked at four possible solutions.
The first would be to expand the 22,000 square feet the department uses in the Hall of Justice, which would require an agreement with Natrona County. That would require building on the county parking lot south of the Hall of Justice, but that would pose unknown construction problems and the entire site would be less than two acres.
The hard cost with renovations and a new addition to the Hall of Justice would be $35.2 million.
The second would be new construction on an unidentified site of eight acres, although the memo identified land on the former Amoco refinery site now known as the Platte River Commons.
The total new construction cost plus site development would be a hard cost of $35.5 million.
The third was to use the 70,000-square-foot space of the former Sears store in the Eastridge Mall. While the space would meet most needs, it would share a wall with a mall tenant and have a lot of nearby traffic. The high ceiling would be costly for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
The total construction cost would be $27.4 million, but that does not include the acquisition cost of between $3 million and $8 million.
McPheeters said he could never get a firm answer about the acquisition cost.
The fourth was to acquire the 47,000-square-foot Casper Star-Tribune building and add a 38,000-square-foot building on the 4-acre site.
The total cost would be $31.9 million -- plus $2.8 million to acquire the property -- and that's comparable to the cost of new construction.
However, the building is at the end of a dead-end street, and sits just yards away from railroad tracks and the potential of a hazardous waste spill.
Speaking to the options of renovating the Hall of Justice compared to new construction, McPheeters said those hard costs don't include other costs such as training facilities, which would result in the renovation of the Hall of Justice costing a total $43.9 million and new construction costing a total $42.6 million.
The city owns properties with sufficient acreage that possibly could be used, although they have their own problems:
- A lot near the Casper Events Center at Events Drive and Poplar Street that has good ingress and egress and proximity to Interstate 25, but it's at the extreme north end of the city that would be inconvenient for officers and the public.
- An 8-acre parcel immediately south of the cemetery at 12th and Conwell streets. It's centrally located, but features negative qualities including sloping land that would require grading, and it would limit the ability to expand the cemetery.
- An 8-acre lot next to Yesness Park with great access to Wyoming Boulevard. But it would not be centrally located and it is sloping land.
"The Police Department knows this is an expensive undertaking; we would tell you the time has come to get serious about it," McPheeters said. "Your public safety goals are kind of being held back by our inefficiencies due to our structure and the separation of our people."
So how to pay for it?
McPheeters said saving money through the optional one-cent sales tax will take time.
Other funding methods could be a limited six-cent sales tax that only Casper residents would pay and would end when the funds are raised, a bond, and possible grants, he said.
Council members offered their own ideas.
Bruce Knell said the police department is spending $250,000 a year to rent space.
Knell referred to former council member Charlie Powell who said the time to undertake major projects like this is now when interest rates are very low
He wants a committee formed to further explore options, he said.
Among those options would be a limited optional 6-cent sales tax.
Lisa Engebretsen said the problem with that is people think it will never go away, so the city should look at other options before going to the taxpayers.
Khrystyn Lutz said people thinking the special sales tax won't go away once the money is raised is an opinion; it's just not true.
Kyle Gamroth and Amber Pollock said the council should look at the need for. a new police headquarters not in a vacuum, but as part of a larger picture including other major projects, such as the need to renovate the storm sewer system.
Knell disagreed, saying the council can find ways to pay for a new headquarters without an added tax.
"I prefer to keep it in the vacuum where I think it belongs because we're not taking any extra money and putting it on our taxpayers, and in fact we'll probably save money overall on a monthly basis when we're talking about the money we're spending on rent," he said.
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storage closets and janitorial spaces have been converted into office spaces.