Preliminary cost of $18 million would address safety and space deficiencies

Renovations and new buildings for Wyoming’s fire and police departments, public works, and the city offices were proposed during the city’s workshop on April 7. The proposal still has many stages to go, including public comment, before the council will vote on any action or plan.

At the heart of the reason for the proposals is a need for more space and safety concerns, particularly for the fire and police departments, in addition to safety concerns for city staff. 

Two main options were presented to council. The first, and most expensive, would be an estimated $18.4 million project estimated to take place in 2023. That option would give the fire department and police department a brand-new structure, update city hall to make sure it’s ADA compliant and address space and safety concerns, and create a new public works building that would provide more storage and space to work. 

The second option, also projected for 2023, would still grant the police department a new building, but would expand the current fire department’s bay behind city hall and make maintenance upgrades to the building, including ADA compliance. The projected cost was $7.5 million for 2023.

However, in anticipation these additions and renovations wouldn’t deliver to the fire department their expected long-term needs, city staff still projected a new fire station would be needed at a later time. Building a new fire station at a later time was estimated to cost $5.9 million in the near future, $7.7 million by 2030 and $11.3 million by 2040. 

When Police Chief Paul Hoppe took a job as an officer with the Wyoming Police Department in 2009, the police department was headquartered out of the back of a mechanic’s garage.

In 2010, the police department moved to the former township building, what was intended to be a three- to five-year solution. 

“The current building the police occupy does not meet the operational requirements for the department,” City Administrator Robb Linwood said in an email.

Hoppe’s concerns for the police department have to do with decontamination and space for processing evidence and interviewing people. Similar are issues for the fire department, which Hoppe oversees as the city’s chief of Public Safety.

Hoppe described how his officers have to change clothing in a single-stall bathroom, and it does not have a shower, so if officers are exposed to carcinogens or blood-borne pathogens, they are instead forced to shower at home, potentially exposing those they live with. Studies in recent years have shown an increased risk of cancer for those who are responding to fires, and decontamination processes have been adapted with those studies. That decontamination process requires a separation of spaces. 

“We do need to have decontamination facilities or spaces to decontaminate not only turnout gear but equipment that comes back in ... so we’re not trying to put them all the same box so we lose the effectiveness of decontamination,” Hoppe said.

His staff’s safety, and the safety of their families, he said, is what most worries him. 

“They’re getting exposed, and when we come back to the fire hall, they have no place to decontaminate themselves. ... That decontamination is actually being carried over to their personal residence, and that’s a big concern,” Hoppe said.

In addition to a need for better facilities to help with any decontamination process, he also said the police department’s facility is so small they are handling and processing evidence, including narcotics, in the police department’s garage. However, that garage is also where his staff take breaks, adding to the concern over pathogens and safety. This also prohibits the department from obtaining certain pieces of equipment to process evidence because of space issues.

“If you think about the exposure we’re putting on our employees ... and them asking them to prepare their food in the same space, I think, purely from an operational perspective, there’s significant safety concerns, not only for our employees and their families,” Hoppe said.

Among one of the other frustrations over the current lack of space is that the department’s building has no formal interview location for suspects or witnesses. Instead, Hoppe’s own personal office is used, forcing him to clear off any documents in the open and possibly vacate his office if he isn’t the one interviewing the subject. In addition, he said that since there aren’t two designated spaces, it could mean a potentially jarring situation for witnesses who come in for an interview and could be seen by the suspect, potentially scaring a witness to not cooperate in an interview. 

“We’re trying to bring everybody in the same singular space for different types of interviews, ... which is problematic,” he said.

The option to build a new public safety building would address those needs from both the fire and police departments’ perspective; the initial projected cost would be nearly $11.9 million.

Addressing the city hall’s addition and renovations, including ADA compliance, would be an initial projected cost of $1.35 million. The updates for the public works department, which would include a storage addition and demolition of the existing building, would put that projected cost at $5.2 million. 

“I think at this point we’re looking at the sticker price on this and it sounds expensive. I think this is also what happens when we kick the can down the road,” Council Member Clair Lugar said. Lugar noted the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed over 20 years ago, and the city hall still hadn’t been upgraded to become compliant. She said: “We’ve known for years the public safety building, in particular, needed to be replaced. ... Our residents have a right to participate in the civic process, and our employees have a right to work in a safe environment, and it’s an obligation to serve our community effectively. Looking at the prices on this, I look at this — these estimates feel expensive, and I can only imagine what it’s going to cost if we continue to kick the can down the road on things we know we need to upgrade and fix.”

Mayor Lisa Iverson indicated she’d like to see a community task force to discuss and debate what she said was “the good, the bad, and the ugly” about the projects. 

“I think by having some input from our residents is a big deal. I want that cross reference of people,” Iverson said.

Four out of the five council members, in an informal vote, voted yes to have city staff proceed in more information gathering for further options and financial impacts to bring to council at a later date. Council Member Linda Nanko-Yeager did not offer a yes or a no on the informal vote, but said, “I’d like to have time to digest this since I’m seeing this information just tonight.”

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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