The nearly $5-million project to build a new Huntington Police Department station in the Cherry Street parking lot is expected to begin construction in March or April.
Since HPD moved into the City Building in 1904, that the department has grown from seven officers in 1914 to 35, and with the added staff, the department has filled “a disjointed series of tiny rooms” in the City Building and across the street at the former utility headquarters, according to City of Huntington reports.
Huntington Police Chief Chad Hacker said the new 17,000-square-foot, two-story building will give the department space to conduct and record interviews, hold training sessions, talk privately with citizens and store equipment and evidence. Hacker said the lack of space and evidence storage, in particular, played a major factor in their decision.
“We have things spread out all over right now,” Hacker said at the Jan. 7 Board of Public Works and Safety (BOW) meeting. “This building has served its point for the Huntington Police department.
“To say that the Huntington Police Department does not need a new space… is absolutely inaccurate. Our officers are working in cramped conditions … What they work with is not appropriate for policing in 2019.”
Hacker also said drugs, particularly the synthetic opioid fentanyl that can be deadly upon contact, also played a role in the City’s decision. Hacker said their department was required to install a drug field testing station, adding that the only place to put the station was “in the middle of everything else,” according to the release.
“That testing table is beside computers that 35 officers work at daily to type their reports,” Hacker said at the BOW meeting. “We have two doses of narcan (a drug that reverses the affects of opioid overdoses) sitting right there in case one of them is exposed.”
Citizens at the BOW meeting brought up a series of possible locations to consider, in order to save the city from constructing a new building. Citizens requested the City look into old grocery store buildings and the area of the City Building that previously housed the Huntington Fire Department.
Hacker said there is some space available in the former fire station area, but he said the area wouldn’t provide enough room or create a cohesive office, adding that constructing an addition to the building wouldn’t make sense.
The former Marsh Building near South Jefferson Street and Etna Avenue is privately owned, and Hacker said the owners will only lease the building, which would cost “millions of dollars in remodeling costs” and the City would not own the building. He also said the building is too big for the department’s needs.
The former K-Mart building on the north side of Huntington is also privately owned and north of U.S. 24, a four-lane interstate.
“We want to be centrally located,” Hacker said in a statement. “We get 23,000, 24,000 calls for service a year.”
The city-owned former First National Bank/Huntington County Annex building in downtown is impractical, says Hacker, since it is five separate buildings wrapped in one façade, with four levels that don’t match up. It also sits atop Flint Creek, according to City of Huntington reports.
The City reports that the Cherry Street parking lot location was chosen because it is already owned by the city, it’s centrally located and there is room for expansion, if it becomes necessary.
The building will take about one year to construct and will have, among other features, two car bays, several interview rooms, a training room, records office, work space for officers, properly ventilated evidence storage, a drug testing area, space for detectives, a conference room, administrative offices and ample storage.
There will also be a private room near the lobby where visitors, victims and other complainants can talk to an officer, alone.
“Sometimes people coming in to the station aren’t having good days,” Hacker said in the release.
The cost of the station will be paid with $2.2 million the city has on hand, along with a bond issue that will be repaid over the next 20 years using income taxes from the existing Local Option Income Tax (LOIT), which are designated funds for public safety needs.
There is a property tax backup on the bond issue in case LOIT funds don’t cover the costs, but H.J. Umbaugh & Associates principal Heidi Amspaugh said she doesn’t anticipate the city will need to levy a property tax. She said at previous meetings that the property tax backup is for credit-enhancement purposes.