Last Wednesday, president of Bloomington’s police union, Paul Post, led off his public commentary at Bloomington’s city council meeting with a general statement of support for the administration’s plan to upgrade and modernize the city’s police station.
“We fully support mayor [John] Hamilton’s initiative to make the much needed improvements to working conditions at police and fire facilities,” Post said.
Post added, “I’ve worked at the 3rd Street police station now for over 20 years, and I can tell you that everyone would welcome a new and upgraded modern facility.”
However, about the administration’s exact proposal, Post had reached a different conclusion: “We can’t support this specific plan and its associated financial costs.”
The specific plan that Hamilton is proposing is to purchase the western side of the Showers building, which also houses city hall, and to rehabilitate that portion of the building as a police station and as the fire department’s administrative headquarters.
The bond issuance that the city council is being asked to approve, as early as its next regular meeting on Dec. 7, is anticipated to yield $26 million. The total cost of the Showers building project is pegged at $23.5 million, with another $10.5 million to rebuild Fire Station #1 and remodel Fire Station #3, among other projects.
The additional $8 million is proposed to come from the sale of the police headquarters on 3rd Street ($3 million) and CRED (Community Revitalization Enhancement District) funds ($5 million). The bond will be backed by revenue from the city’s local income tax (LIT).
About the location, Post said, “It does not seem to fit as an ideal place to shoehorn in a police station.” He elaborated, “While it is centrally located inside the city, it is landlocked with very poor vehicular access, as well as some associated safety risks.”
Another concern expressed by Post was shared by some city councilmembers: “We also wonder why it is the only option being put forth tonight,” Post said.
The city council’s meeting last week was held in its guise as the committee-of-the-whole. That meant no formal vote was taken on the bond issuance.
In the customary “do pass” vote taken by the council at such meetings, which has no legislative impact, the bond issuance got two votes of support—from Jim Sims and Matt Flaherty. Voting no were Steve Volan and Susan Sandberg. The other five councilmembers abstained. Volan’s vote was based at least in part on the use of CRED funds.
Kate Rosenbarger could be counted as a likely yes—she said she is leaning that way, even though she abstained. Isabel Piedmont-Smith said she could not imagine being ready to vote on Dec. 7, given several unanswered questions, but she would try to get them answered.
Piedmont-Smith put it like this: “I do not foresee that I could vote on this within a week, but I will pursue further clarification between now and then.”
Based on remarks at last Wednesday’s meeting, from the administration’s outside counsel, Barnes & Thornburg attorney Bradley Bingham, it is only the question of the bond issuance that will get a city council vote on Dec. 7. The associated appropriation won’t get a vote.
That’s because the proper notice of the public hearing on the appropriation was not completed in time to hold it on Wednesday, Dec. 7, according to Bingham.
The delay in the vote on the appropriation will also allow the council to explicitly approve the agreement that the Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) is making to pay more than $5 million for the western part of the Showers building. The city council’s prior approval of an RDC agreement for a real estate purchase of more than $5 million is required under the state law that governs RDCs.
Bingham told the city council he felt that the approval of the RDC’s purchase agreement is “already embedded in the bond ordinance.” He added, “[T]o remove any doubt or concerns about that, we’ll put it in that separate appropriation ordinance.”
That separate appropriation ordinance does not look like it has yet been added to the city council’s Dec. 7 agenda.
The cost of buying the western side of the Showers building from CFC is one number that appears to have been dialed in. In the most recent amendment to the purchase agreement with Bloomington’s redevelopment commission, the price has now dropped by a half million dollars to $8.75 million. But that figure is way smaller that the the estimated cost for the renovation of the property, which is $14.75 million.
It was Deb Kunce, with J.S. Held, the architectural consultant for the Showers building renovation, who fielded questions from councilmembers about the proposed Showers building rehab. Kunce estimated the per-square-foot cost of the project at $367. She said that the cost estimates for a different approach, new construction, had not been based on any particular location.
Deputy mayor Don Griffin told councilmembers that the cost of from-scratch new construction would be around $700 per square foot. As alternate sites, Griffin said the former IU Health hospital on 2nd Street had been considered, as well as the Trades District, north of city hall. Those are properties owned by the city.
Griffin said that if the city does not already own the real estate, then it would cost $2.5 to $3 million to acquire land “with great access.”
Vehicular access to the Showers building was a concern expressed by councilmembers like Dave Rollo, who seem opposed to the bond issuance, as well as councilmembers like Kate Rosenbarger, who is leaning in favor of it.
The southern entrance to the building along 8th Street cuts across The B-Line Trail. Rosenbarger said last Wednesday, “The B-Line…is our most-used multi-use path in the city, and just having cars going in and out of there very quickly, I think, is a little terrifying.”
For Kunce, it was the count of access points that matters. For the Showers building, she counted one to the north, which is the alley between the Showers building and the Trades District parking garage, and one to the south along 8th Street, for a total of two. For the current 3rd Street location of the police station, she counted three access points.
“While the Showers building has one less major access point than the current building, I don’t think it’s bad,” Kunce said.
One of the arguments for choosing the Showers building as the location of a new police station and fire department administrative headquarters is the consolidation of city services in one location. That’s a concept that resonated with councilmember Sue Sgambelluri, who said, “I also favor the notion of a city government campus of sorts.”
She continued, “I like the idea of a city hall that has a comprehensive collection of services and departments that are together.” Sgambelluri added, “I’m still not convinced that this is the ideal space for public safety.”
Not mentioned during deliberations last Wednesday about the location of a new police station was the empty city block owned by the First United Methodist Church, across 3rd Street, just to the north of the existing police station. It was the former location of Bloomington’s post office.