Improvements to the joint law enforcement center in Newton inch closer and closer to fruition, with the Harvey County Commission taking the next step in pushing remodel plans forward at this week's meeting.

An agreement for such renovations was brought before both the city of Newton and the county commission several weeks ago and, with the initial design numbers secured, it was brought back before the commission on Monday for action. County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber was quick to point out, though, that the numbers presented are not final figures — they are "not to exceed" numbers, with the ceiling for initial design phase costs set at $241,000.

Based on the one-third and two-third split arranged between the county and city, that means the county would be committing up to $80,333.33 for the initial design. Swartzendruber noted that same cost share is by no means locked in for the duration of the project, and payment for whatever work is finalized will be split based upon the final ratio of renovations done to either the portion of the building dedicated to the Harvey County Sheriff's Office or the Newton Police Department.

"The design cost is going to be prorated to the remainder of the project," Swartzendruber said. "If we move forward with the project, the design costs will be split up as we know what is fully included."

Moving forward, final approval of the remodel design will still be required by both governing bodies, so there is still time for input. Swartzendruber stated that is even written into the agreement for administrators to facilitate discussion with department staff, which for the county will include more than just the sheriff's office — as both 911 Communications and Emergency Management are housed in the joint law enforcement center as well.

"Ultimately, this impacts everybody in the basement, not just the police department," Swartzendruber said.

One area that must be addressed following action taken in the initial design process is the gun range. Part of the first steps in the initial remodel design included mandatory lead testing of the range. With those results coming back positive, the range has been temporarily shut down as of Oct. 19.

Getting the gun range back to operational capacity is a priority. Though the lead abatement itself will also be a joint effort, Swartzendruber noted it is being addressed as an isolated issue apart from the overall remodel in order to expedite the process.

"We are currently talking to contractors to determine what needs to be done to remediate," Swartzendruber said.

"We're hoping to have that thing up and running soon," said Sheriff Chad Gay.

Commissioner Randy Hague also questioned about getting the range back up to standards (with moving targets, etc.) in the process, but Swartzendruber noted that while remediation could be streamlined as a separate process, any improvements like that would need to be included as part of the remodel process, either in phase one or phase two.

Funding for the project was also brought into question, and whether or not the county would have to put any potential means of funding to vote. While Swartzendruber reiterated that costs for the project are not set in stone, he stated his expectation that the county's portion would be manageable and not require such action.

Additionally, given that this is the start of a process — and one the county agreed to take on with the city — the commission was in favor of moving forward (voting unanimously) with the exploratory remodeling agreement to gather more data.

"We have to go on and find out what the next step is," said commissioner Chip Westfall. "This is not a point to do or not to do, or cut out part of the project. We're in a fact-finding mode of this to find a dollar amount and that kind of stuff."