Smaller, less expensive proposal preceded $98M public safety initiative
City officials insist project can’t be done at ’05 estimate of $20M
Three years before Grand Junction city leaders unveiled a $98 million, multi-building public safety initiative, a team of city department heads privately developed a conceptual plan for a smaller, simpler project at a fraction of the cost.
Former City Manager Kelly Arnold, former Public Works Director Mark Relph and former Police Chief Greg Morrison told The Daily Sentinel they and other administrators worked for several months in 2005 on an internal draft proposal for a main public safety facility that would have been at or near the site where the police station and downtown Fire Station No. 1 exist.
Relph estimated the complex would have cost $20 million to $25 million.
But current City Manager Laurie Kadrich and Police Chief Bill Gardner say that plan consisted essentially of a shell of a building and didn’t include basic necessities such as technology or equipment or account for future population and departmental growth — factors they say hike the cost significantly.
They also say the officials who put the feasibility study together took the wrong approach with it, designing a building around a limited amount of money rather than working to determine actual needs and coming up with a dollar figure.
“That group was asked, ‘What can we get for $20 million to $25 million?’ ” Kadrich said. “We asked, ‘What are our public safety needs? ... Give me what we need in 30 years.’ ”
Relph and Morrison, though, dispute that. They said their proposal wasn’t restrained by a dollar amount and that its size did, in fact, reflect a growing population.
“I was not given a budget in which to try to squeeze a project,” Relph said. “We were asked to try to manage a project that would meet the needs of police and fire administration and understand what the costs may be based on local conditions, local construction costs.”
The $20 million project was raised last month by City Council candidate Reford Theobold, who told the Sentinel’s editorial board he wants the city to take another look at that proposal.
City officials have explored a variety of options and locations over the years for constructing new downtown police and fire stations as growth and technology have taxed two buildings that approach or exceed 50 years in age.
One of those alternatives grew out of a directive Relph said Arnold gave him in 2005 to meet with other department directors and come up with a preliminary concept.
Relph and Morrison said administrators proposed a new police station, a new downtown fire station, a new 911 dispatch center and space for fire administration.
“My mission was trying to find a reasonable alternative that we thought we could afford,” Relph said.
Arnold, who left in July 2006 and became the town manager in Windsor, said the project never advanced beyond a draft stage because the city’s funding priorities shifted to the Riverside Parkway project.
Morrison and Relph resigned their jobs in December 2005 and February 2006, respectively.
In contrast, the $98 million initiative included all of the elements of the 2005 proposal, as well as three neighborhood fire stations, a new municipal court, a parking garage, an annex building and an emergency operations center.
City officials have said the initiative would have met the city’s public safety needs for the next 30 years and that the price tag included all the equipment that would be needed.
The city sought to pay for the project through a sales-tax increase and Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights override, but voters rejected it last November.
Gardner, who succeeded Morrison, called the 2005 assessment “well-intended but flawed.”
He said the roughly 65,000-square-foot new police station — up from the 38,000-square-foot station that exists — was designed to hold 200 police employees. But the department, he said, exceeded the 200-employee threshold in 2007.
He and Kadrich also said the proposal would have funded the main public safety building but little or nothing inside of it, including equipment, technology, training rooms, furniture and evidence storage.
Unlike the $98 million initiative, they said there was no effort in 2005 to study where additional fire stations might be needed in the future.
Gardner said while the $20 million estimate responded to the question of what the city might realistically be able to invest in the project, “it was an irresponsible figure in terms of what it would cost.”
“I would be misleading everyone if I said we could build this for $20 million,” he said.
Relph and Morrison, however, say their plan did account for community and departmental growth. And Morrison said a different philosophical approach to policing, not a lack of foresight, explains why the main public safety building was smaller than the 140,000 square feet called for in the 2008 initiative.
Morrison said part of the 2005 proposal grew out of an International Association of Chiefs of
Police conference he and Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey attended in 2003 or 2004. One of the classes was led by Jim McClaren, an architect who specializes in designing law-enforcement buildings.
Morrison, now the assistant police chief in Breckenridge, said he and other administrators based their proposal on a formula pitched by McClaren. The formula determines a public safety building size and cost based on a community’s projected population in 20 years and the average per-square-foot construction cost in that community.
“It wasn’t that we were given ‘x’ number of dollars and had to go build a building,” Morrison said. “We were calling upon expertise we learned at this school by someone who has built a lot of police buildings.”
Morrison said the size of the building was predicated on a neighborhood- and community-policing philosophy that emphasized spreading officers throughout the city rather than concentrating them in one building. He noted that officers were stationed in substations at Mesa Mall, Grand Junction Regional Airport and the Redlands fire station and that police were looking at establishing another station in the east end of the valley.
The goal was to improve police response times to calls for service and make it more convenient for residents to meet with officers.
“We very much didn’t envision a police station where officers would come back and do all their work,” Morrison said.
Kadrich and Gardner insist that regardless of the previous administration’s work, there’s simply no way that $20 million can meet the city’s public safety needs.
“If we could build it for $20 million, we would,” Kadrich said.