By Oscar Halpert Herald Writer
MILL CREEK — It’s crowded inside the police department.
File cabinets are jammed into cubicles. There’s no spare room for meetings.
“Cops have stuff, they have a lot of gear,” Police Chief Bob Crannell said. “It’s basically piled around because there’s really no place to put it.”
Police aren’t the only city employees feeling the space crunch at City Hall, a 16,000-square-foot, single-story building next to Town Center.
Lack of space is an issue for all city departments but none more so than police.
A 2007 consultant’s study projecting space needs over 20 years showed the police department is 6,950 square feet too small for its needs — the biggest space gap in City Hall.
Relief will come but not immediately, officials say.
Instead, the City Council wants to implement changes in three phases.
In the first phase, the city’s maintenance department is expected to move into a new building on four acres of city property a mile north of City Hall, across from the Mill Creek Sports Park.
Design of that new maintenance facility is scheduled for 2011 with construction of the $1.7 million building to follow in 2012, said Tom Gathmann, the city’s public works director.
Real estate excises taxes — which the city receives whenever property is sold — would pay for it.
Moving the maintenance department — and its heavy machinery — away from City Hall will free up about 2,300 square feet and 18 to 20 parking stalls, according to the city’s 2007 Facilities Master Plan.
“We take up a good chunk of the parking lot,” Gathmann said.
A solution to the police department’s crowding problems would come next. The city could build a new police station away from City Hall or move police into an existing building. That move is still three to five years away, however.
“The city is not in a position where we can just snap our fingers and build a new police station,” said Mayor Terry Ryan.
Rather than build a new station, the police department could move into the first floor of the adjacent annex building. Such a move is estimated to cost $4.4 million and could be financed by voter-approved bonds, said city manager Tim Burns.
Once police move out, City Hall could be remodeled in a final phase at a cost of $4.2 million, the consultant’s study said.
When police moved into the current City Hall in 1989, there were 12 police department employees, Crannell said.
Today, the department has nearly 40 employees.
Two years ago, Crannell added another detective but didn’t have an office for him.
“We actually converted our conference room into a detective’s office,” he said.
Storage is in such short supply that archives are kept in an upstairs mezzanine, accessible through the finance department, Crannell said.
“Once an officer writes a report, they need a place to put it,” he said. “All those cases are stored there. If we’re writing 1,800 to 2,500 items a year, that adds up pretty quick.”
Newly elected Councilman Bart Masterson toured the police department recently.
He said the tour was eye opening.
“Cramped isn’t quite the word for it,” he said. “Aside from being incredibly inefficient because of the confusion, the lack of privacy … it’s downright dangerous.”
The department’s seven marked patrol vehicles are parked in stalls behind City Hall.
“Which means if they get a call for service, they have to go around and across the front of the building,” Crannell said. “It’s just one of those things the officers have been extremely cautious about for a long time.”
Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429, firstname.lastname@example.org.