Archived Story

Police station options examined

Published 9:54am Monday, August 29, 2011 Updated 12:57pm Monday, August 29, 2011

The Fergus Falls city council now faces three options for where to construct a police station. Each one of them has their pros and cons.

The location across from city hall is still the site that city staff recommends. Most importantly, it’s the closest to the heart of downtown, where most of the police’s calls come from.

There’s also plenty of space for a nice building and any future additions that might be needed in upcoming decades, and it’s nestled right between city hall and the courthouse and jail.

Police Chief Kile Bergren said the question boils down to “Which areas of town are we called to most frequently?” That answer is definitely downtown, and he is preparing to show those statistics at a future council meeting.

Some residents have pointed out that there are always police officers on patrol who can quickly get to most locations in town. Bergren said that is true, but there are often times when more police officers need to go out from the police station, like if two patrolmen are out at the scene of a burglary and one or more non-patrol officers need to respond to an assault.

In cases like that, minutes can be the difference, and police want to arrive on scene as soon as possible.

There’s also a financial reason to consider staying at the Washington location: the $1.2 million the city has already spent out of pocket to buy the site.

“A concern to me when we’ve already invested 20 percent of a project cost into the acquisition of land is how you would recoup that cost if another site was selected,” Bergen said.

Still, a vocal contingent of residents and some reluctant council members are not sure if the location justifies the police station’s $5.8 million cost (which includes the $1.2 million). And, said City Administrator Mark Sievert, there are options to get rid of the land.

When the city purchased the property, it did so without bonding for the project, choosing to pay with cash on hand pulled from other funds. Those funds need to be repaid.

However, if a different location was selected, he said, it might be possible to sell the property before bonding would be needed. Whether a sale could recover the entire $1.2 million (plus some environmental work) the city paid is unknown by staff.

The second option, moving into the U Motors building, is expected to cost $3.88 million. The expected move-in cost is the least out of all three options, and the new building could be adapted into a police station fairly easily. The main problem city staff has with the building is that it’s at the westernmost end of the city, far away from the bulk of the department’s calls.

Bergren also maintains that putting a police station so far west would require the hiring of an additional officer and transcriptionist to cover time lost (due to budget cuts, officers currently transcribe their own police reports). He estimated that those hirings would cost an additional $106,000 annually, increasing over time with raises and benefits.

However, Sievert said more hiring will eventually happen anyway.

“Even as much as the community population isn’t growing significantly, numbers of calls … are increasing,” he said. “Your staffing levels are going to change no matter where your station is.”

The latest option, the old U.S. Bank location at 225 West Cavour Ave., has a lot of upside. It’s bigger than the potential Washington Avenue building, its cost comes in at $4.87 million, and it is also located downtown. There is also room in the building for future growth of the department.

There a few worries about how small the building’s lot is in the case of future expansion, but the biggest concern is parking.

While the U.S. Bank building meets the department’s space needs, the police would need to construct a parking garage for squad cars on an adjacent city parking lot, taking up most of the space there and leaving local businesses with little space for their customers to park. Some business owners have told the department they’re concerned with the idea.

“The last thing that we want to do is something that would negatively affect any business in town,” Bergren said.

Though Sievert and Bergren have both recommended the Washington site, they’ve both said either other option would still be workable, provided for a few modifications here and there. They simply believe that the Washington site would suit the department’s – and the public’s – needs the best.

“The biggest thing is being able to get all of our operations under one roof and in one location,” Bergren said.

  • Mr_Lincoln

    sell the land and use u motors.cops can get across town fast on the interstate they once told me they can put the lights on and cross this town in 5 mins

  • Jake Krohn

    I was under the impression that the parking garage on the bank property would be built where the drive-through area currently is, and that it would only encroach on perhaps the westernmost row of parking in the adjacent lot. Regardless of whether it only minimally impacts this lot or it takes up more room than I imagined, I don’t think we need to worry about downtown parking, as this map shows we’ve got it in spades:

    Indicated on the map is over 10 acres (467,000+ square feet) of surface parking in the general downtown area spread throughout 25+ lots (some public, some private). This figure doesn’t even include on-street parking, which is allowed just about everywhere and is free.

    I took a look at the lot in question on what I would assume to be a peak parking period, around 11:30 a.m. on a weekday, and of the 40 or so spots, only 4 were occupied. One observation does not a pattern make, but I’d wager that those two lots spend more time empty than full. We can, and should, put our downtown land to better use than that.

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