While the job of the Community Council on Police Facilities may have been completed following a meeting Monday afternoon, the action taken by the task force marks the beginning of a longer process for the City of Newton and Harvey County to work out the specifics regarding the proposed improvements to the joint law enforcement center.
Previously, the task force elected to make improvements to the existing facility, rather than build a brand new facility or rehabilitate a different building. Action taken on Monday addressed the specifics of the planned improvements to the current law enforcement center, which was noted will meet needs for the department for seven to 10 years (before reassessing based on community growth, etc.).
The task force unanimously approved a two-phase plan for rehabilitation. Phase one (2017-2018) would include renovation of the Newton Police Department for more efficient use of space, replacing lockers in the locker rooms, replacing the existing HVAC system, removing and replacing windows on both sides of the building (police and sheriff's office), upgrading the evidence storage area and adding interior office space (for the drug task force), rehabilitating the building at 129 E. Seventh St. for more storage needs and constructing more parking around that area, among other items.
Beyond 2018, phase two of the project would focus on building an outdoor shooting range near the city's water treatment facility, with a small building for gun cleaning and training, and constructing a law enforcement training center to be shared by the NPD and sheriff's office — or potentially enlarging the outdoor range building to meet those needs.
"If we're going to look at this, we're going to look at the whole thing, so we wanted to be able to address the needs that we have today," said Newton Director of Public Works Suzanne Loomis.
All told, the estimated cost of both phases of the plan at this time is $3,019,500, though that is simply based on projections by one architecture firm (WDM) before anything has been put out to bid — which has been discussed as a goal for December of this year.
Loomis was also quick to point out that not all of that price tag would fall on one entity. While WDM Architects did project a cost of $1,676,500 for changes to Newton's half of the building, several of the improvements (like the HVAC system, the building at 129 E. Seventh St. and drug task force offices) would be a shared cost between the city and the county.
County commitment to the project was a key topic of conversation at the meeting among task force members after hearing some hesitancy regarding proposals previously discussed. Loomis noted she brought in representation from both the police department and sheriff's office to clear the proposed plan, as a county commission tour of the facilities led by Sheriff Chad Gay generated some strong support for keeping the indoor shooting range (which was previously discussed as potential office space).
Upon hearing that feedback, Loomis discussed other options for office space with the NPD and the sheriff's office, and alternatives were quickly sussed out. However, the feedback from the county (which owns the current building) was concerning for some task force members and raised the question of how involved they should be in the process.
"This throws me into a totally different ball game," said task force member Jaime Ontiveros. "Doesn't it seem practical, even correct, that we do bring the county to the level that we're at? This is all about giving the police force appropriate facilities."
It was noted that county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber, in attendance at Monday's meeting, would report back to the county about the proposed plan while it was also intended to be put on the agenda for the next joint meeting between the city and county, which all the task force members were invited to.
As opinions continue to be heard on what to do with the law enforcement center, Newton city manager Bob Myers admitted he is optimistic about both governing bodies being able to come together and make this plan work.
"I'm excited about the potential about this, (but there are a) lot of details to get worked out; the county has got to see it the same way, but I have every reason to think that they're going to take a real serious look at this," Myers said.
"That may be a first step towards a future of working together on other things," said city commissioner Leroy Koehn.
Funding for the project is also something that will need to be discussed jointly, whether through a bond issue or shifting funds, but that will be addressed in the future once the project is finalized.
Currently, the future (and the option agreed on by the Community Council on Police Facilities) also includes the city continuing to put money away for a new facility, while task force member Rob Nicholson questioned if architects could look at expansion at the courthouse-adjacent site — stating his belief that it could last 20, 30 or even 40 more years at that location.
Deciding that future site for police facilities, wherever it is, is a decision most of the task force agreed is a ways off, though, as they will now simply wait and see what progress is made on the two-phase plan they approved to go before the city commission.
"We've done our task and we're making a recommendation to the city and hoping and praying that things continue to go that direction," said task force member Tom Williams. "We need to come together, and that's when things are going to be a success."