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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 12:25 am | Fair 44º


Santa Barbara City Leaders Work Toward Locking Down Plan for New Police Station

Discussion centers on replacing or renovating the department's aging and structurally deficient building on Figueroa Street

The building housing the Santa Barbara Police Department has been an institution on Figueroa Street for more than 50 years, but city leaders met Monday to discuss how, where and when a new police station should be built downtown. Officials estimate the current building is at the end of its useful life, and there’s no cheap — or easy — solution to securing a suitable facility.

The current building houses more than 200 officers, is open 24/7 and includes not only offices but a jail, a shooting range and a dispatch center for both fire and police calls.

“It’s not just your typical office building,” said Paul Casey, the City of Santa Barbara’s community development director.

On top of the many functions the building serves, it also has to meet a higher building code that schools and hospitals follow, instead of normal buildings, adding to the expense.

Renovating the building’s dilapidated locker rooms was a project approved in 2007, but it quickly escalated as more work was needed than expected. Engineers also discovered the building had a number of structural deficiencies, including violations of seismic standards.

It’s the biggest unfunded capital project on the city’s radar right now, and rehabilitating the existing building is the cheapest option — but it still amounts to a staggering $25.7 million.

In addition to seismic updates, the building needs to be brought up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and asbestos is also an issue. Though the building is safe now, as construction begins and walls are disrupted, asbestos would have to be contained. Several areas of the building are already sealed off and unusable because of the threat.

The site also has an issue with soil contamination as a result of spilled fuel, and the levels of contamination are already 29,000 times the legal limit, according to Joshua Haggmark, principal civil engineer for the city.

“No matter what we do, we have to do (the soil cleanup),” he said.

A second option would renovate the front of the existing police station and demolish the back portion, rebuilding it, which would bring the total space to 40,000 square feet. But that option would cost about $51.1 million, more than building a new structure from scratch.

Demolishing the building and starting over was the option the council seemed to agree on, which would bring the cost to about $48.6 million. A new 40,000-square-foot station would be constructed on the same lot, and the department would be moved temporarily for the two years estimated for construction.

“If there was an easy solution, we would have done it already,” Haggmark said

Alternative sites also were discussed, as well as where the department could temporarily relocate. The commuter lots on Cota Street and the one of Carrillo and Castillo streets were considered. The most promising option appeared to be the Post Office on Anacapa Street, expected to go on the market soon. The 50,000-square-foot building would be optimal in terms of space, but it has only 40 parking spaces, which would have to be figured out if the group decides to move forward.

Funding for the project remains up in the air. In 1999, a ballot measure went before voters to approve funding for a new department, but it failed, garnering only 45 percent of the vote. More recently, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown tried to pitch voters on a half-cent sales tax to fund a new county jail, but the measure was resoundingly defeated by voters in November, in spite of widespread political support.

Officials said $7 million is already set aside for the project in the city’s Redevelopment Agency budget, and selling the Figueroa property could yield $5 million to $7 million. Funding the remainder with voter-approved financing could be an option, such as putting a sales tax measure on the ballot.

A successful ballot measure would require the political will to do so, as well as a sweeping effort to educate the public about the poor condition of the building.

“I had never been inside more than the entry lobby — until last week,” Councilman Bendy White said. “It was an embarrassing shock to take that tour. It is so far behind all of our other facilities.”

White, along with most of the other members of the council, expressed the desire to move forward. Though no formal decisions were made, city staff will put together an action plan to bring before the council.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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