Talk of new city hall picks upPublic safety has outgrown the facility, officials say
A cold, steady rain fell late last month, and the officers and staff on duty at the Cottage Grove Police Department did what they always do: pull out the buckets and listen to the leaks drip, drip, drip.
Problems at the city’s lower level public safety headquarters don’t stop at a leaky ceiling. The department’s 39 sworn officers, plus support staff, operate in crowded conditions; some interviews are conducted in insecure areas and the building’s two holding cells aren’t up to current code.
Despite severe economic worries facing the city, those concerns have motivated Cottage Grove City Council members to again pick up serious discussion of building a new city government and public safety building.
Talks were on hold
Meaningful talk of a new city government building has been on hold since roughly 2007, said city administrator Ryan Schroeder, when signs the economy was headed south began to appear.
But, officials say, conditions for the police department in the cramped, outmoded facility haven’t improved. And Mayor Myron Bailey said last week action needs to be taken — even if the project won’t be popular among residents in tight economic times.
“Basically, we’ve outgrown the facility,” public safety director Craig Woolery said. “We’ve just outgrown the building. It’s difficult to meet the needs of the public.”
First built in the 1960s and last expanded in 1995, the city’s public safety headquarters presents a maze of hallways and a lack of space to adequately interview and detain suspects or take statements from victims.
Evidence has begun taking up floor space in the storage room off the police department’s garage. Prisoners and police department staff share a single bathroom. The department’s jail cells sit smack-dab in the middle of the facility — not an ideal situation, Woolery said.
“It would be like having to walk through the bathroom to get from the kitchen to the living room everyday,” he said. “You just wouldn’t design it that way.”
The department has made the best of its situation, Woolery said, and will continue to do so as long as necessary.
“I’m very sympathetic to the economy,” he said. “I don’t expect or demand anything from the public.”
‘Makes sense to plan’
A new government-public safety building a priority, Bailey said, he hopes to see ground broken as early as 2011.
Renewed talk of a new general government facility began at a late-January city council visioning retreat as part of a five-year financial planning exercise.
Bailey acknowledged it’s a difficult time to put a multi-million dollar project back on the front-burner, considering a dire economic forecast city officials received recently from the county.
But, he added: “It’s time to quit talking about it and get working on it.”
Roughly $4 million was stashed away by the city over the past decade for construction of a new city hall. Schroeder estimated the cost of the building could be anywhere from $7 million to $20 million.
Dialogue hasn’t yet progressed to how the city would pay for a new building, he said.
The city has begun work on updating a 2006 study that laid out space needs that Schroeder said will be tweaked and ready for city council members in May. Then the city plans to have conceptual architectural designs for the building produced.
Schroeder likened the process to the work being conducted by a Cottage Grove task force that is exploring a possible community center.
“It makes sense to conduct planning,” Schroeder said. “Sometimes the end result of that planning is you can’t do the project.”
Federal grants could be available for such a project, Bailey said. Placing planning back on the front burner makes securing some of that aid more of a possibility, he believes.
“To spend millions on the existing facility, there’s no sense to it in my opinion,” the mayor said. “It’s time to bite the bullet.”