To build or not to build, that's the question city officials in Maplewood are grappling with as they assess the current and future needs of the police department, which has run out of room.
The City Council recently approved spending $20,000 to hire SEH Inc., a St. Paul architectural firm, to study the department's current space at City Hall. The hope is that the results, due in June, will provide direction on whether to build a new station, add on to the current facility, or annex existing space at City Hall and relocate other departments and services to a nearby city-owned facility.
The police department occupies 60 percent of City Hall, but Police Chief David Thomalla said the department has outgrown its space because it has a larger force than it did 25 years ago when it moved in the complex at 1830 E. County Road B. It also has had to respond to advances in technology.
"We're busting at the seams," Thomalla said. In 1984, "we had one computer. Now with all the cables we have, I'm surprised we are not pulling the ceilings down."
There is no room to expand locker facilities in which vests, clothes and towels hang outside of skinny lockers that don't much have room for equipment. Ventilation in the locker room is poor. Equipment is piled in offices and corners, meeting spaces are tight, and areas for officer training and investigation are at a premium.
They are all undersized, outdated and inefficient, said Chuck Ahl, assistant city manager.
"It probably worked pretty nifty when you moved in 1984," Council Member Kathy Juenemann said. "It probably hasn't been working too nifty for quite some time."
Building a new station, which could cost from $10 million to $15 million, appears to be the least likely of three early options because of its price tag. A new station also would leave a lot of empty room at City Hall.
The study by SEH is aimed at identifying other affordable solutions, such as shifting employees in the Community Development Department to the Public Works building, where there is undeveloped space or putting an addition on the current building. The study will identify the costs associated with each plan, along with their pros and cons.
"I think we are in agreement that something needs to be done, but there is resistance to do things that are expensive," Council Member John Nephew said. "This will help us look at what is feasible."
The study comes after the council and city staff took a February retreat and set a goal to review all city facilities as they begin planning for the next five to 20 years.
Thomalla said the department has grown from 42 officers in 1984 to 53 today. There is a central room with six stations where officers enter reports, but there are few places officers can work in private.
With one detective who focuses on Internet crimes, "there might be things that you don't want others in the office to see," Thomalla said. We'd like a place "where we can keep the doors closed."
If he had his way, Thomalla also would like to have a covered parking space for the department's squad cars as well as places for equipment storage. For now, he'll settle for enough space so officers are not on top of each other.
The police department, however, isn't the only department with needs. Earlier this year, the City Council signed off on a plan to reorganize the city's fire department.
That plan reduces the number of stations from five to three and calls for two stations to be remodeled or torn down and rebuilt, and a third to be relocated near Interstate 94 near McKnight Road or Century Avenue.
Tim Harlow • 651-735-1824 Twitter: @timstrib