Moving forward

With the Homer City Council’s blessing to proceed until the project is completed, the Public Safety Building Review Committee met Monday and authorized consultants to proceed with a site survey and test bores of the selected location at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Pioneer Avenue, the current location of the Homer Education and Recreation Complex, or HERC,

“We need more information about the exact topography,” said Ken Castner, commitee chair. “And then we agreed with a plan that would bring us in four weeks a preliminary site design with all the civil considerations included.”

That also will include the best way to address a swale on the site, a natural watercourse that is part of the Homer bench drainage. 

“At times it runs harder, at times less,” said Castner. “It’s something you don’t want to cover over and fill and don’t want to harden all the way down.”

The committee also has asked the contractor, USKH in partnership with Loren Berry Architect and Cornerstone General Contractors, for an estimate to tear down the oldest building on the site that houses some of the city’s Public Works offices.  

What has yet to be resolved is paying for construction of the building, as well as its day-to-day operations. A new public safety building, estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $29 million, is the second item on the city’s legislative priority list for fiscal year 2016. Mayor Beth Wythe, a member of the Public Safety Building Review Committee, pointed out at the committee’s December meeting the reason the public safety building is not first is because water storage-distribution improvements have to top the list in order to receive funding. 

During its Jan. 12 meeting, the council discussed the possibility of re-appropriating legislative funding meant for developing Homer’s east-west transportation corridor to construction of the public safety building. However, in interviews with the Homer News, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, urged caution with such a move, especially in light of the state’s current financial woes.

“It’s something you need to be careful with,” said Stevens.

“Normally when the funds are not used, they’ve been allocated to a city and they have another project they want to use it on, usually the Legislature is understanding, but this is a tricky year. We’ll be looking at every dollar.”

Seaton also offered a cautionary note.

“It is quite risky to take money approved by the Legislature and say we don’t want to spend it on that, we want to spend it on something neither the Legislature nor the governor approved. That would be my message,” said Seaton. “I’ve toured the police station. The police station has problems. (The city) wants to design a $28 million complex. The Legislature isn’t going to put money into the start of a project that’s not going to happen for awhile.”

Speaking for himself, not the committee, Castner said the answer lies in doing the project in phases.

“I think there’s only one logical course, cut the thing in half, get the police station down to about a $15 million project, go out and bond $10 million and cobble together the rest,” said Castner, who sees deterioration of the police station as cause to address its replacement first. “I don’t envy them every day they spend in the police station. I truly believe this is something that should have been addressed before now. It’s really too bad we waited until now, when there’s the worst state funding forecast since I’ve lived here.”

Wythe favors a different approach: selling the project as a whole. In December, Wythe argued that providing police and fire service to the community is the greatest need and the project will not get any cheaper “piece-mealing” it. 

The next meeting of the Public Safety Review Committee is scheduled for Feb. 17.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at