Work toward improvements at the joint law enforcement center shared by the Harvey County Sheriff's Office and Newton Police Department took a step forward last week, as Newton's Community Council on Police Facilities approved a plan to present to the city commission.

The selected plan (divided into two phases) focuses on rehabilitation of the current facilities adjacent to the Harvey County Courthouse — in property owned by the county. Joint discussion of the selected plan was highlighted as a key factor in the next steps of the process, something County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber began on Monday as he reported back to the county commission on last week's meeting.

Items singled out for work in the improvement plan that was approved were numerous, ranging from replacement of lockers to the creation of office space for the drug task force to more parking, but Swartzendruber was quick to point out that nothing was set in stone, especially when it comes to pricing.

"All this is really a conceptual plan at this time and an estimate as far as dollar amounts go," Swartzendruber said.

Given that no official designs have been drawn up, Swartzendruber noted the estimates ($2,269,500 for phase one and $750,000 for phase two) provided by WDM Architects are very rough at this point. Also, he said the total price tag for the county will not be known until the improvement plan is finalized and more details are worked out, though he estimated costs within the range of $350,000 to $650,000.

Numerous items would be joint responsibilities, like replacement of the HVAC system (with the county interested in pursuing other avenues than what was presented in the initial plan), enhancements and addition of storage space in a county-owned building at 129 E. Seventh St. and the creation of a new outdoor shooting range in phase two of the plan, but how much of the cost each entity would share is unclear at this time.

Regarding some of the items, it will come down to factors like ownership and usage, but there was a clear interest from the county to work together on the highlighted projects — like the outdoor shooting range.

Discussion surrounding said range has centered on building on city property near the wastewater treatment facility. While any funds to be committed by the county may be unknown at this time, joint meetings between government staff and local law enforcement have shown there is a shared interest in that project — as it would offer something not available at current sites.

"I think what they're really wanting is someplace where they can congregate, meet to discuss, do training and then get into the practical side of it right there at the same location," Swartzendruber said.

Prices will continue to be in flux as the county looks to address some of its own priorities regarding facility improvements, which Swartzendruber noted include carpeting in the county's portion of the building and requests made by the Communications and Emergency Management departments (which also share the space).

Looking at the history behind this discussion, the county commission saw the plan presented — while a fairly major overhaul — as a feasible one. Seeing the commitment from the city for seven to 10 years (as listed in the plan) also made the commissioners pretty receptive towards moving forward.

"We just need to proceed and get the next level of pricing, what's it's going to be, what we can afford together and how much we want to do," said commissioner Chip Westfall.

Though not at the point to consider financing just yet, Swartzendruber did broach the idea of at least partially utilizing the county's fund balance to keep away from issuing bonds, but that is something that will be readdressed once improvement plans are finalized.

Coming together was agreed upon as the next step to help usher those plans forward, with Aug. 22 proposed as a possible date to discuss the subject among the city and county commissions (at a scheduled city work session).

"Lots of good work has already gone into place and I think we can get to a place where the city and county can agree and solve some issues on their end," Swartzendruber said, "and give us the opportunity to do some rehab in that building that's needed to be done for some time also."