- September 8, 2008 - 9:27 AM
COLUMBIA HEIGHTS PUBLIC SAFETY BUILDING
825 41st Av. NE., Columbia Heights
Area: 43,000 square feet
Lot size: 218,000 square feet
Cost: $11.5 million
Details: An empty lot on 41st Avenue NE., a block west of Central Avenue, which for many years held a massive 1920s school building, soon will host a state-of-the-art Columbia Heights police and fire station.
This comes as great news for the community's police department, which since 1959 has had to make do with a cramped, 2,300-square-foot headquarters adjacent to City Hall several blocks away. In making their case to taxpayers, police officials noted that their current facility has far more mice than officers, has no break room, and suspects have to be handcuffed to a bench in the hallway because there are no detention cells.
All that is about to change: Work has begun on a 43,000-square-foot combination police and fire station at the site of the former NEI College of Technology. That once-imposing 1926 structure -- the first Columbia Heights High School -- was purchased by the city and razed in 2004, leaving a prime redevelopment opportunity only a block off the city's Central Avenue business strip.
After considering it for a new community center, city officials decided to work with Independent School District 13 to establish the center at the current high school instead and use the NEI lot for a public safety building, Columbia Heights City Manager Walter Fehst said.
"As we started talking about sites for the police and fire building, we looked at 47th and Central as a possibility, which could perhaps have spurred some further redevelopment there," he said.
"It turned out to be too expensive to buy that property, so we decided to put it on 41st instead."
The facility, designed by Buetow & Associates of St. Paul, will be at the south end of the 5-acre site, leaving room at the north end for a possible library.
The building will utilize a traditional approach, with brick, stone and glass materials, and featuring arched windows and turned-down gooseneck lighting reminiscent of old-time "fire barns."
But its most distinctive feature will be a 39-foot-tall tower containing a fire bell from the longtime current Columbia Heights fire station, said Randy Engel, a principal with Buetow & Associates.
"The fire department wanted to display an artifact from their long history," he said. "It will be illuminated and visible for everyone to see."
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. Contact him at email@example.com.
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