City council committee to mull question of Showers building purchase for Bloomington police station

The Bloomington police station’s move from its current 3rd Street facility to the western part of the historic Showers building that houses city hall has still not been decided by the city council.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s idea is to incorporate the police station, as well as the fire department’s administrative headquarters, into the western part of Showers.

The $8.75 million purchase of the Showers building is part of a plan for which the city council already approved a $29.5 million bond issuance at its Dec. 7 meeting.

A four-member city council special committee that has been formed to take a closer look at the proposal will meet at 11 a.m. on Tuesday in city hall.

At the Dec. 7 council meeting, the appropriation ordinance for the expenditure on the real estate could not be voted on, because a requirement for published notice of the hearing had not been met. So the appropriation, and the council’s approval of the purchase of the Showers building, were both put off until Dec. 21.

At its Dec. 21 meeting, the council voted to postpone until Jan. 18 any decision on purchasing the western part of the Showers building.

On Tuesday morning, the four-member committee will be looking to get a clearer understanding of differences between cost estimates from mayor John Hamilton’s administration and the police union.

The city’s police union is opposed to locating police headquarters in the former Showers Brothers Furniture Factory, which was constructed in 1910 and renovated in the mid-1990s.

Serving on the special committee, which under city code can be established by the council president, are: Dave Rollo, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, and council president Susan Sandberg.

The $8.75 million purchase of the Showers building is part of a more than $30-million proposal by the Hamilton administration. The proposal would co-locate the police station and fire department’s administrative headquarters in the building, as well as re-construct downtown’s Fire Station #1, which was damaged in the June 2021 flood, and undertake a major renovation of Fire Station #3 on North Woodlawn, just south of the railroad tracks.

The cost for the reconstruction of Fire Station #1 and the remodel of Fire Station #3, among other projects, is estimated at around $10.5 million.

Bloomington’s redevelopment commission is playing the role of the purchaser for the Showers building. Under state law, that’s why the proposed purchase price of the Showers building, $8.75 million, can exceed the average of two fair market appraisals of the property—$5.5 million and $7.69 million.

It’s because the purchase price is greater than $5 million that the city council, under state law, has to approve the RDC’s purchase agreement. Under the terms of the purchase agreement, the deal has to be closed by the end of January.

At the council’s Dec. 21 meeting, the idea of postponing the decision by a month was buttressed by questions about cost estimates raised at the public mic by police union representatives Paul Post and Jeff Rogers.

The administration pegs the cost of renovating and expanding the BPD headquarters at its current 3rd Street location at around $25.2 million. That compares to an estimated $23.5-million cost for renovating the Showers building, to accommodate both a police station and the fire department’s administrative headquarters.

In addition to the smaller cost, the administration points to the fact that the city would be getting a bigger value from a Showers building purchase. That’s because the fire department’s administration would have a home, and the total square footage would be about double the amount of space that would result from the renovation of the existing BPD headquarters.

One of the specific cost estimates that the police union representatives have questioned is $2 million for ground floor parking under a two-story addition to the west of BPD headquarters. At the location of the proposed 15,000-square-foot addition, there’s currently a 15-space metered public parking lot.

About the parking spaces, Rogers told city councilmembers at their Dec. 21 meeting, “We’ve made it clear that we do not need that. That is not necessary.”

By the police union’s tally, the cost of renovating and expanding the 3rd Street facility is about $6 million greater than it needs to be.

The police union is against relocating to the Showers building based on a couple of different factors, including a concern about adequate ingress and egress to the location.

At the Dec. 21 meeting, Hamilton was not keen to see the council postpone consideration of the proposal. Any questions about the numbers provided by the administration, compared to those provided by the police union, could be addressed that same night, Hamilton said.

Councilmember Steve Volan asked Hamilton: “Is there a problem with us more fully understanding these numbers?” Hamilton’s answer: “I would suggest you ask those questions right here.”

7 thoughts on “City council committee to mull question of Showers building purchase for Bloomington police station

  1. I really don’t understand why the council members didn’t ask their questions at that meeting. I was anxious to learn

  2. Asking those questions publicly at the meeting would have been more honest and transparent rather than in a private closed-door meeting. Why the secrecy?

  3. What would be the point of seeking answers from the very sources which provided the disputed numbers? The issue isn’t one of a lack of understanding, or a need for clarification; the issue is a need for independent verification. That cannot be accomplished on the spot.

    1. At least the council questions and answers could be public and on the record

  4. I have no direct knowledge, but knowledgeable people say that there has been a succession of multiple consulting architects on the project. Some believe that the administration was shopping for a consultant to slant the cost estimates to suit the administration’s preferred solution by underestimating the costs associated with the Showers Building and overstating the costs associated with additions/renovations at existing sites. If true, this would have of course happened in closed door meetings. There is no reason to think the administration would confess to this subterfuge, if true, in a public meeting.

  5. First I would note that this very important decision is left for the last council meeting of the year and there is this possible bond penalty for not deciding this before the end of January. Why wasn’t this discussed the settled on months ago in a less stressful way. There was also a discussion of some excess square footage that would exist in this proposed Showers plan after the Police/Fire center construction happened. What was that going to be used for? Why is the administration willing to pay a price that is $1,000,000 plus more than 2 fair market appraisals? Finally doesn’t it make a lot more sense to decide exactly what you are going to spend money on and then pass the bond to pay for it.

    1. Long before public safety headquarters appeared on the agenda some members of the city council observed that the administration’s modus operandi with regard to the council could best be described as provide as little time and information as possible and claim immediate action is required. In this case, immediate action on the bond was said to be necessary because of imminent Federal Reserve rate hikes. The adequacy of the information about the HQ estimates was questioned by the council and the mayor kept the pressure on for an immediate vote as described above.

      The height of the ‘hair on fire’ approach for me was the digital broad band initiative, which had been slowly progressing out of sight of the council and the public for years. One day, an hour or two before the public announcement, the council was alerted that there was a proposal. They were expected to vote on the proposal quickly, as always. The council, with the exception of Council Member Rollo, rolled over on this one, accepting the administration’s assertions at face value.

      This lack of respect for the council has been repeated over and over again, leading one to believe that the administration views the council as an obstacle to be overcome rather than a co-equal branch of government to cooperate with.

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