Public gets a peek at possible public safety building scenarios

One floor or two floors? One phase or two phases? It was an agenda of possibilities at the Nov. 10 meeting of the Public Safety Building Review Committee.

“When the consultant, Loren Berry Architect, put together our space needs analysis, they gave an optimized footprint. One of the options was on one level, the other involved two. We kind of took those things apart and fit them on the site the best we could,” said Ken Castner, committee chair, of efforts to find the best fit for a new public safety building to be located on city-owned property at the corner of Pioneer Avenue and the Sterling Highway.

The site is currently home to the HERC, Homer Education and Recreation Complex, a former school building also owned by the city but no longer used with the exception of community recreation activities held in the gym. 

A second building, also formerly a school, provides space for the city’s Public Works Department. 

“We couldn’t do it all on one level, so we went to the two-story building,” said Castner. 

The committee also attempted to minimize costs to construct a new building, estimated at approximately $28 million, by reusing or repurposing as much of the existing structures as possible.

“On my own, I said I can’t see us building this all in one swallow, so let’s see what a phased project looks like,” said Castner. “So they presented a series of drawings. One showed the whole thing completed. Another was in phases.”

The phased approach considered by the committee would allow for the police station to be constructed first in such a way that the HERC gym could stay in place and continue to be used until construction on phase two, the fire station, began, said Castner. 

The options presented to the committee by USKH, now Stantec, included drawings and a breakdown of costs. Phase 1 would require removal of the building providing Public Works space and the police station to be constructed in the Pioneer-Sterling Highway corner of the property. A 19,207-square-foot first floor would include a police lobby, jail, property and evidence space, and work areas for investigation, patrol and dispatch, with the 13,043-square-foot second floor providing for training and fitness and a shooting range. The estimated cost of Phase 1, with construction starting in 2016 would be $18 million.

Phase 2, the fire station, would provide space for emergency response apparatus where HERC classrooms are now located. Removal of the gym would make way for a two-story area to provide for offices; work, medical and training space; and related areas. Building Phase 2 in 2016 was estimated to cost $8.9 million. Factoring in inflation, waiting to build until 2021 would raise the cost to $10.7 million; waiting until 2026 would put the price tag at $12.5 million, according to Stantec’s estimates.

“The estimate was prepared by identifying a range of square footage costs for the various building area uses, jail cells higher cost than administrative offices,” Carey Meyer, director of Public Works, wrote in a memo to committee members accompanying the drawings and estimates.

Meyer’s memo also noted the increase in cost by phasing the project due to inflation, as well as having to mobilize on the site twice.

Mayor Beth Wythe and Fire Chief Bob Painter, members of the committee, each preferred a build-all-at-once approach, said Castner. However, he favors dividing it into two phases as a more likely funded plan. One possible funding scenario offered by Castner includes combining $2 million in the city’s permanent fund, a $10 million bond and “maybe Katie (Koester, the city’s economic development coordinator) finding $3 million” to do Phase 1.

“Phase 2 is probably seven years out,” said Castner. “We would need to retire some of the debt on Phase 1 and get everything ready to do Phase 2. … That’s starting in 2016. And even with 2016, we’d have to have a bond issue on the ballot next year and convince everybody that it’s the right time, place and amount of money.”

Castner said he wants to see the public safety building constructed. “I don’t want to sit around for five years and think about it,” he said. “This is either something the town will get behind and support it or not. They can swallow it in pieces, but not a 32-ounce steak.”

Currently, the HERC gym is used seven days a week for recreational activities. According to the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the HERC site measures 4.3 acres; the land is assessed at $809,400 and the improvements due to be removed for the new public safety building assessed at $4 million. The current police and fire stations, located at the corner of West Pioneer Avenue and Heath Street, have been identified as no longer adequate to meet the need. That 1.57-acre property is assessed by the borough at $326,900 and the improvements at $1,112,300. 

Homer’s “outstanding need” for an education and recreation center ranked No. 5 in the city’s 2013-2018 Capital Improvement Plan, and a new public safety building was listed as No. 8. The city’s 2014-2019 Capital Improvement Plan sharpened the city’s focus to five legislative requests, with the public safety building moving up to No. 2 and an education and recreation center no longer included. 

Costs to construct a new public safety building will be discussed at the next Public Safety Building Review Committee meeting, City Hall, 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10.