An idea for a Police Dept. Building

By: 
Bill Marek

(Editor’s note: Bill Marek has lived in Montgomery for close to 46 years. As an attorney, he and his brother, Scott, own Marek Law Office & Tax Services. In the mid-2000s, Bill was instrumental in the idea of changing the former elementary school on Highway 13/2 to a high school and creating an elementary and middle school campus on Second Street.)

After the vote in November, where 72 percent of voters were not in favor of the proposed $6.7 million project to build a new building for the fire and ambulance department and re-purpose a portion of City Hall for the Police Department, I have been in touch with the city to get educated on this issue. The mayor and city administrator have been most generous with their time in answering my many questions and spending part of a recent Sunday with me to tour through the various city buildings. I sincerely thank Tom Eisert and Brian Heck for their time and patience over the past two months.

Through this process, I have an idea to propose for a new police department building. And, to be clear, this is my own idea and not endorsed or proposed by anyone associated with the city.

Furthermore, I am not looking at this as the only possible solution … there may be several others and better ideas than mine; but I wanted to start a dialogue on what could or should be done on this issue. Rather than tying up a lot of time on focus groups and task forces, I was hoping to cut to the chase and try to figure out (using a faster approach) what might be best for the city and its residents.

It is duly noted that street repairs are very important, and the residents view this as a high priority item.

It is also noted that with the new Justice Center in Le Center and the school improvements in Lonsdale, Montgomery and Le Center, that about $50 million of the public’s money has been spent in the last year or so on building projects.

So with those two items in mind, I don’t know what the appropriate timing would be to consider a building for the Montgomery Police Department. But regardless of that, let us look at a sample scale for building conditions.

Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent

After touring the various buildings, it would be my un-expert opinion that the City Hall (with ambulance and fire) is in fair or good condition. The police department offices are in very poor or poor condition, in my opinion. The building housing the police department is a pole frame building, constructed by Tupy Concrete in 1974.

In 1992, the City of Montgomery took over ownership of that building. So for 28 years now, about 900 square feet in the south part of that building has been used for the police offices. The garage portion of the building provides parking for police vehicles, city trucks and street equipment.

Having been in Montgomery for almost 46 years, it has been my experience that farmers are some of the smartest and most savvy people around. So bear with me as I try to use an analogy … if a farmer has a hog barn (fire hall and ambulance) that was in fair or good shape, I don’t think the farmer would try to convert the hog building into a dairy barn and then build an entirely new hog barn. Wouldn’t he simply build a better dairy barn at the onset? Furthermore, if the farmer had plenty of land on which to build the new barn, wouldn’t he just build it on what he already owns, rather than buying more land?

The city owns 1.62 acres of land between Boulevard and Lexington where the current Public Works and Police Buildings are located. Couldn’t a new structure be built along Lexington, perhaps across the street from Traditions Assisted Living?

I have heard that the cost of a new stick-built construction may be in the range of $150 per square foot. So, to upgrade from the current 900-square-foot police offices, couldn’t something in the range of 1,500 - 2,000 - 2,500 - 3,000 square feet be built new that would serve the police department for many decades to come?

A variant on this that has been mentioned is completely tearing down the 1974 post-beam building and putting a new building on the same spot. To me, that seems wasteful as the 1974 building seems fine being used as a garage for storage of city trucks and street equipment. If a roof or gutters can be reasonably repaired to prevent leakage - do the repairs.

Some people have mentioned (and we have seriously looked at) whether an existing building in Montgomery could be purchased and then remodeled to fit the needs of the police department. After driving around town several times, it is difficult to see which building would be the right one - some are too big, some are too small, some don’t have sufficient parking, etc.

Also, paying a purchase price, and then factoring in remodeling expenses that would be needed to fulfill all of the requirements for a government building, leads me to think that starting new would be the best way to go.

It has also been mentioned that the area between Boulevard and Lexington was earmarked (about 20 years ago by the EDA) as a possible commercial development site and that placing a new police building on city property would be counter to potential future development plans. My question is whether it is realistic or not to expect commercial development in this area. How long will it be before that happens?

Also, how much would it cost to move not only the city facilities but also the State Highway Dept. facilities? I would assume we are looking at millions of dollars, aren’t we?

We should remember that the high school on the highway was built where an elementary school had existed for 17 years (1994 to 2011). If the decision-makers at the time were convinced that the highway location should remain as an elementary school, I fear that our high school students would still, today, be in the old 1936 building.

Another idea that I have heard is purchasing and tearing down houses located adjacent to and west of City Hall, or across the street and southeast of City Hall, and then add on or build a separate building. If we use land already owned by the city, we avoid spending money to buy land and tear down houses.

With this column, I am hoping to open a public dialogue on what should be done on this issue. Can we be our own “experts” to figure out what is best for our city’s needs?

Please email me your thoughts at bmarek@frontiernet.net or stop in my office to discuss this important issue. I would like to provide feedback to the City Council as soon as possible.

Thank you very much.

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