Council considers options for old police station

With plans proceeding to build a new Homer Police station at the corner of Heath Street and Grubstake Avenue, the Homer City Council at a worksession on Monday pondered another question: What to do with the old station?

After an informal, nonbinding discussion, the council asked Homer City Manager Katie Koester to look into the options of demolishing the old building or leasing it. Council members didn’t show support for selling the building.

While no official action can be taken at a worksession, the meeting started discussion on what could be done with the vintage concrete-block structure.

In a memorandum to the council, Koester presented these options:

• Sell the property

• Convert the building into a space for Public Works Bulding Maintenance

• Preserve for a community use

• Demolish the building

• Put the building into “cold” status and let the Homer Volunteer Fire Department use it.

“You can sell the property and demolish the building,” Koester said in describing options. “You can preserve it for a community use and do something else, too.”

In earlier action on the old building, the council in 2013 passed a resolution which said that if the building is sold, revenue would be directed to a special fund for building a new Public Safety Building.

After that action, the idea of a consolidated public safety campus with both police and fire services in one spot was discarded by the council.

Converting the old station to a maintenance building would involve renovation — potentially more than the cost of building a pre-engineered metal building. Currently, maintenance office space and storage is in one of the Homer Education and Recreation Complex buildings.

“My gut feeling is it would be cheaper to build a pre-engineered metal building,” said Public Works Director Carey Meyer.

In public comments at the worksession, mayoral candidate Ken Castner III said that based on his experience as a construction estimator, the cost to renovate would be about $250 a square foot — about $1.4 million for the 5,700-square-foot station.

A 4,000-square-foot metal building on a 4-inch concrete slab would cost about $1 million, Castner said.

“To me, a lot of this comes down to the dollar signs associated with it,” said council member Rachel Lord of renovating the police station for a maintenance building. “It seems like the cost to transition it to a maintenance building, it’s the round peg into a square hole analogy.”

Koester said there’s no pressing need to build a new Public Works maintenance building. Meyer said his department would prefer a space near Public Works buildings on the Homer Bypass opposite the Heath Street intersection and on Beluga Slough, but he also noted the issue of that area being in a tsunami inundation zone, according to newer maps.

Council member Shelly Erickson raised the question of using the old police station for community use.

“We realize we do have issues with homelessness and a teen center,” she said. “Is that something we would actually want on city property?”

Koester said she had some concerns with that, but those are the same issues with using the HERC for community purposes. I.E., the building is not up to code for something like that and would require significant renovations.

“That’s much like the conversation we’re having with the HERC and what we’re doing with that,” she said.

Council member Caroline Venuti also asked if the old police station could be leased to an organization like the Homer Community Food Pantry. Venuti asked why Koester did not include an option to lease the building in her memo.

“Probably because I’m terrified of it,” Koester said.

A lease would have all sorts of liability concerns, she said, but if the council wants her to consider leasing as an option, she will. Leasing might mean bringing the old building up to code.

Running the meeting in her role as Mayor Pro Tem in Mayor Bryan Zak’s absence, council member Donna Aderhold said she didn’t hear any support for selling the old police station.

She asked the council for a quick poll using the “fist of five” method, where members rank an idea from one to five by holding up fingers, with one finger being low support and five fingers being strong support. The poll ran from three to five points.

“We have consensus in not selling,” Aderhold said.

Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Terry Kadel talked about how his department would use the old station for training as short-term use prior to demolition. As a commercial structure, the old station would provide important, quality training, he said. Firefighters would practice techniques like entering buildings by breaking down doors or windows. That creates an eyesore, he said.

“It wouldn’t leave the building in much usable space,” Kadel said. “… Windows have to be screwed down so somebody coming by doesn’t decide to sleep in a jail cell on their own terms.”

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