Council debates police building expansion
The Westerville Division of Police needs more storage space and upgrades to its firing range, but how the city will meet those needs is uncertain.
During a Sept. 11 work session, a city staff proposal for an upgrade to the police division's firing range and for an 8,500-square-foot expansion to house the division's storage was met with some skepticism from City Council members.
The upgrade and expansion tie in to a long-term vision for a $12.5-million expansion to the police facility to create a "Justice Center" to house the Westerville Mayor's Court and all police division operations, once proposed for the site of the old Westerville Armory and neighboring U.S. Post Office property.
The city owns the Armory site at 240 S. State St. but has not been successful in attempts to purchase the Post Office site at 260 S. State St.
The new proposal for an 8,500-square-foot expansion of division headquarters Uptown stems from a request by council earlier this year that staff review city facilities to see whether they are meeting the city's needs.
The staff's report found that all facilities are doing well, with no immediate needs for expansion or improvements, save the police division buildings.
Currently, the police division operates out of its headquarters at 29 S. State St. and offices in the old Westerville Post Office at 28 S. State St., with storage spread out among four other facilities.
The police division currently operates within a total 42,120 square feet, according to a city staff report. An earlier report completed by an architectural firm recommends that the police division would ideally have 71,880 square feet, though the city's staff said it believes 63,390 square feet would be a workable amount of space.
"The police division, as we've heard about, their minimum requirements are being met. They're scattered across facilities. ... It's certainly not ideal. They're getting by for now," said city Administrative Services Director Adam Maxwell.
"There's not enough space in some cases for staff. There's not enough room for storage, particularly records storage."
The expansion and upgrade to the firing range would address immediate need while the city planned for something else.
City Council members expressed concern about expanding into more space in Uptown, where there is a higher need for building space and parking.
"It just seems rather expensive to me to build storage at this facility and keep in Uptown," said City Council Chairman Mike Heyeck.
Councilman Larry Jenkins also questioned the need to expand within Uptown and, along with other council members, asked to examine the cost of building a separate facility elsewhere.
"Once we invest in here, we've now pinned that function here. I know there's a cost going somewhere else, but we're already looking at a cost," Jenkins said. "We should look to move functions that don't need to be here in our prime real estate for some things that do need to be here."
Council members also asked about the possibility of collaborating with other local law-enforcement agencies to build a shared center, which is something City Manager Dave Collinsworth said the city has explored but is far from pursuing.
The expansion and upgrade would have to be factored in to the city's five-year capital improvement plan if council were interested in moving forward, Heyeck said.
That plan generally goes before council in April, and the work session was meant to generate discussion on how the city might address police needs in that plan, Heyeck said.
Collinsworth said the city will have to make some decisions on police facilities soon, particularly because the shooting range is in dire need of equipment upgrades.
"I wouldn't want to wait more than three years to make a decision," Jenkins said. "I think three years out, we're going to reach a functional life end for our equipment."