COLUMBUS — The city won’t be combining the downtown police and fire stations at a shared public safety facility.
After forming a committee consisting of city staff and community members to review potential locations, City Administrator Tara Vasicek said the group determined the “sheer magnitude” of the project made it too difficult to pull off.
Vasicek said there are no available properties large enough to put a joint public safety facility in the locations preferred by city staff while keeping the project within a reasonable budget.
“We think it’s important that we don’t remove both of those facilities from downtown,” she said during Monday night’s Columbus City Council meeting.
The city administrator also said building a shared facility instead of having separate police and fire stations “wouldn’t have saved much money.”
Instead of looking into a joint facility, the city is now pursuing separate options for the police and fire departments.
The city council voted Monday night to approve a two-year option-to-purchase agreement for three parcels of land just north of Howard Boulevard/U.S. Highway 81 between 46th and 47th avenues.
For a $100 fee, the city has up to two years to decide whether this will be the future site of a new fire station. It would cost $180,000 to buy the land currently owned by Ron Lambert and Randall Properties.
“It’s a great location,” said Vasicek, who called the selling price a “good” deal for the land while also noting that there are other properties “on the table” for a new fire station.
The agreement gives the city time to finalize its plans for the fire and police stations before committing to the purchase and allows local voters to have their say.
Columbus residents will be asked to approve a bond issue to finance the police and fire projects during the May 15 primary election. Those bonds would be repaid using revenue from the local half-cent sales tax voters already extended in May 2016.
Some council members questioned the accessibility of the Howard Boulevard/Highway 81 site, which sits along a frontage road just east of Paradise Dance Club, but Vasicek isn't concerned.
She said the location provides quick access to a four-lane highway, but noted that a nearby set of traffic signals may need to be adjusted.
However, because the new station would be on the west edge of Columbus, she said city officials would “need to have a discussion” about adding living quarters to the C.W. Louis Fire Station on the city's southeast side so some staff could be based there.
That station, located along Eighth Street, is currently an unmanned facility used to store equipment.
Mayor Jim Bulkley said part of that discussion will include developing a projected cost and timeline to improve the station.
Meanwhile, the mayor still isn’t ready to reveal any plans for the police department.
“We’ve got a couple of good ideas, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said of that project.
The city has been looking at long-term facility options for the police and fire departments for a few years as both downtown stations need significant improvements and lack the necessary space.
Omaha-based Prochaska & Associates was hired in June 2016 to complete a needs assessment for the departments and begin looking at potential plans.
That firm was replaced by Kansas City-based Police Facility Design Group in October after city officials became dissatisfied with the lack of progress being made and Columbus-based B-D Construction was hired earlier this month as the construction manager at-risk for the public safety improvements.
Those two companies will work together to develop estimated costs for the plans ahead of the May bond vote. Bulkley has previously said the goal is to approve ballot language for the bond issue in February.
The downtown fire station is currently located inside the decades-old former city auditorium, which has deteriorated over the years, and the police department operates from a former bank building the city purchased more than 20 years ago.
The city and Platte County are currently working on another plan to consolidate their 911 dispatch services, potentially resulting in a third new public safety building.
In November, the two entities hired Columbus-based RVW Inc. to look at possible locations for a shared dispatch facility and provide estimated price tags for each option.