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Consultant gauges St. Petersburg police needs for new headquarters

Four buildings at 1300 and 1301 First Ave. N make up the St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters. The buildings date from the 1930s to 1978 and are considered antiquated.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Four buildings at 1300 and 1301 First Ave. N make up the St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters. The buildings date from the 1930s to 1978 and are considered antiquated.

ST. PETERSBURG — The DNA room, where blood is stored, is across the street from the forensics room, where it is examined. The blood itself is kept in ordinary refrigerators rigged with alarms set to go off if the evidence is compromised.

These are among the reasons officials say the city needs a new police headquarters.

"We have used some creative measures," said Mike McDonald, the Police Department's assistant director for administrative services. "It's certainly not what you would like to see or what you would like to have."

The city has planned for years to use Penny for Pinellas money to eventually build a new police headquarters. Now it has taken the first concrete step toward a new building: hiring a consultant to study the department's projected growth and must-have upgrades.

The "needs assessment" study is the first phase in what is expected to be a five-year preparation before ground is broken. The design and location of the building will be broached in future phases.

Architects Design Group of Winter Park is being paid $88,000, part of a $50 million fund set aside for the project.

The study will take three months, and will involve interviewing department heads, taking tours of the facility and compiling a report for the City Council, said Ian Reeves, vice president of the firm, which has done studies for agencies across Florida.

While the final budget for the building has yet to be set, it's expected to be more than $50 million, said Mike Connors, the city's internal services administrator. The city expects to obtain federal grants to make up the difference, he said.

Among the priorities is to create a "green" building that would be energy efficient and save on operating costs, Connors said.

McDonald said the existing buildings are antiquated and have cost the city hundreds of thousands in stopgap maintenance costs, including $1.9 million to fix a leaky roof in 2005.

"These buildings would not be supported through any kind of major hurricane," McDonald said.

Four buildings make up the headquarters. The two main buildings, at 1300 First Ave. N, house administration, emergency communications, the armory, evidence storage and other functions. They were built in 1951 and 1978 and are connected by a tunnel. The 1951 building once held a jailhouse, McDonald said.

Across the street at 1301 First Ave. N are two buildings: a 1930s structure that houses training, forensics and public information offices, and a 1950s building that holds garages and storage space. Several other buildings around the city house investigative units, canine operations and other services.

The agency's wish list includes better buffers to protect the building from an attack, increased security for prisoner exchange, a room for public meetings, roomier storage facilities and a temperature-controlled armory.

While the new building will undoubtedly be better equipped to meet modern concerns, it may not need to address significant growth, McDonald said.

The department, with 540 sworn officers, 225 civilian employees and 150 volunteers, is not expected to see significant growth in the next two decades, he said. The city's current population is about 250,000.

Connors cited a study of the Police Department conducted two years ago that said the city will continue to experience "slow to moderate growth" in coming decades. The study, by Matrix Consulting Group, showed the city population increasing by 4 percent, or 10,000 people, through 2030. It also showed the department's ranks rising by a modest 3 percent by 2017 to meet those needs. Those percentages would increase slightly if the city were to annex Tierra Verde or land in Feather Sound, the report noted.

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

Consultant gauges St. Petersburg police needs for new headquarters 03/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 21, 2009 4:31am]
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