Two new police buildings planned for Columbia

Monday, April 29, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:07 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 29, 2013

COLUMBIA — City Manager Mike Matthes recently said it's time for the Police Department's downtown headquarters to go through an overhaul.

"It's dark, there's not a lot of space, and there's little holes that are offices," Matthes said. "It's definitely part of a morale killer. You want to work in a clean place. You don't want to go into a dump. It's a dump. It just is." 

The 2014 draft of the city's capital improvement plan includes cost estimates for the addition of two police station facilities and a new police headquarters in its list of potential projects. 

The plan calls for:

  • A northern facility that would cost an estimated $14.5 million, which doesn't include buying land. Construction would begin in 2015. 
  • A new downtown headquarters, which would cost about $10 million. Construction would begin in 2017. 
  • A third proposed facility, to be located in south Columbia, would cost an estimated $10.4 million, without factoring in the cost of land. Construction wouldn't begin until 2021. 

Matthes said the city, as part of the budget process that begins this spring, will look only at the first two buildings.

The north facility would be built first, so that officers and equipment could operate from that building while the downtown headquarters are demolished and rebuilt onsite, he said.

Construction of the southern center wouldn't begin until years later and only if necessary, Matthes said. 

The 2014 capital improvement plan draft includes projects that collectively would cost more than $200 million. It will be up to the City Council to decide which and how many of these projects would be funded by a five-year, or perhaps 10-year extension of the capital improvements sales tax, which is slated to appear on a ballot next year.  

Matthes said he thinks voters will be receptive to extending the sales tax because it will be timed so that the current tax will roll off.

"We're very sensitive to the idea of tax fatigue," he said. "And we don't want to ask for too much." 

The existing quarter-cent sales tax, passed in 2005, is scheduled to expire in December 2015. Matthes said it is hard to say whether the tax rate on the proposed extension would be the same as the current rate because the needs now are greater.

The police facilities are top priorities for the new capital projects budget, Matthes said.

"I think Missouri in general, we get every single penny out of a dollar that we spend," said Matthes, who came to Columbia from Des Moines, Iowa. "While I like that, when you get to that last penny, it gets pretty tough. The Police Department has clearly done that."

Police Chief Ken Burton said the biggest problem with having only the downtown headquarters is that policing 65 square miles from a central-city location is difficult. The plan is to set up three smaller "neighborhood" police stations based on the city's growth. 

Burton said each facility would be autonomous, with its own command station and all the supplies and resources needed to police the area.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said the proposed capital projects budget will generate a lot of community discussion. Ultimately, she said, it will be up to the public to determine whether new police facilities make the list of projects that would be supported by a tax.

The capital projects budget is part of the larger budget for fiscal 2014 that will take shape over the summer and must be approved by the council before Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

If the police facilities were to make the list of projects to be funded by the tax extension, but the tax didn't pass, Matthes said the department would struggle on as it has. 

Brinkley Sargent Architects submitted a space needs assessment in 2011 that cited the need for two precinct facilities and an overhaul of the downtown headquarters. It also offered cost estimates for the buildings.

The firm suggested the north facility be built near Paris Road and East Brown Station Road and the south facility near Grindstone Parkway and South Rock Quarry Road. 

"We would try to see if the city owned property already, but it could mean having to buy property in that area," Burton said. 

Matthes said the city will take into account all of the architects' suggestions. "We'll try to build that as close as we can, but we're Missourians, so we'll try to find a cheaper way to do it."

Consultant Eric Anderson in 2011 also analyzed the Police Department's facilities as part of a larger assessment of the department's operations and staffing. Matthes said he didn't want an academic paper citing literature and talking theory; he just wanted to know what was wrong with the Police Department. Anderson spent two months with the department, starting Dec. 1, 2011, and submitted a seven-page report in 2012.

Anderson cites low officer morale, an inadequate supervisory environment, confused communication, pay compression and unclear rules and regulations as issues within the department.   

He also said the department needs a modern facility to function properly.

Matthes said he thinks the problems with police morale would be somewhat alleviated by more space and better work conditions. 

Burton said the first step is to get the money to pay for the facilities and the second is to be as fiscally responsible with that money as possible. He also noted that if the projects are approved they will be done in stages to avoid a big hit on the budget.

"We'll ask for one next year and one in a couple of years, and eventually we'll get to the point where we have neighborhood stations where needed," Burton said. 

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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