New police headquarters could help Casper recruit and retain more officers - Casper, WY Oil City News
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New police headquarters could help Casper recruit and retain more officers

CASPER, Wyo. — The Casper Police Department may be outgrowing the space they have in the Hall of Justice and other facilities in space they occupy across town.

“The greatest issue truly is a lack of space,” James Estes with Police Facility Design Group, PA told the Casper City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 29.

It is not only the Hall of Justice which has issues, but facilities like the Market Street Garage which Estes called “totally inadequate.”

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Police Facility Design group was contracted to conduct a feasibility study and space needs assessment for the Casper PD.

Councilman Bob Hopkins asked Estes whether building a new building might allow more space for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office to grow into.

Estes said he hadn’t spoken with county officials but assumed that would be the case.

Mayor Charlie Powell asked Estes if he had any recommendations on how to communicate the need for a new facility to the public.

Estes said it might be helpful to find community leaders interested in the project rather than relying on only city officials to provide the messaging.

He said that a lot of police departments are also trying to find ways to use their headquarters as spaces to engage with the public rather than acting as just a “fortress.”

Providing a “good, sound” building is also an important recruiting tool and improves morale and retention for police departments, Estes said.

“It’s the biggest tool in their toolbox, but it kind of goes unnoticed since that is not where [the police] are usually seen,” he added.

He said the Casper PD currently has about 46,000 square feet of available space, which is about 28,000 square feet less than what is needed even now, not to mention as the police force grows.

Estes said that the following space needs did not include much, if any “fluff” and were a good representation of what space is actually needed by the police department:

“We aren’t just picking these numbers out of the air,” he said. “We’re not so much determining space as determining function.”

Interactions with police department staff helped pinpoint what the functional needs of the police department are.

National standards are referenced to help determine what type of space will be needed to meet the functions that were identified.

That helped the consultant avoid recommending more space than necessary since space is the primary factor that drives up building costs, Estes said.

He pointed out that police facilities tend to be expensive compared with other types of structures due to their security needs.

“Police buildings are expensive today but they will only get more expensive in the future,” Estes said.

He says the buildings can last 50-100 years, but if growth scenarios aren’t taken into account, their useful life could be much shorter.

Planning for growth is also important to avoid expensive modifications to facilities in the long run.

Estes said that renovating the current Hall of Justice would be unlikely to solve all of the current facility issues the police department is facing and would be expensive.

A study that Police Facility Design Group prepared identifies four different options for new police headquarters space:

1) Reuse of the existing Hall of Justice by renovating existing space and expanding the floor space by constructing a new addition, attached to, and/or immediately adjacent the current structure

2) a building of new construction on a clean site to be identified

3) renovate and expand the former Sears space in the East Ridge Mall

4) renovate and expand the former Star-Tribune building.

City of Casper

The study provides a cost estimate of each option.

“[I]f an expansion to the Hall of Justice was the preferred development scenario to advance, the most reasonable option to put forth would be the placement of it on the current County parking lot to the immediate south of the Hall of Justice,” the study states “The proposal developed under this option would be the development of a basement level parking garage with two floors built over it.”

“This garage would replace County parking lost to the building footprint built upon it. The two floors of Police and Courts space built above the basement garage would meet the programmed space need.”

Constructing a new building would give the city the most flexibility in designing a building to meet the needs of the Casper PD.

“Our planning for new construction on eight acres affords design flexibility of the building structure, sufficient parking with designated and secure parking for Police fleet vehicles, and room for expansion beyond the needs of the 20-year planning period,” says the study. “New construction on a sufficient site will serve not only the Casper Community today, but for the next generation to come.”

The former Sears space inside of the Eastridge Mall was also considered as a potential option.

“While our evaluation has determined that there is an opportunity for construction cost savings versus new construction there are serious concerns,” says the study. “Chief among these concerns is the party wall the Police Department would share with an unknown neighbor in the adjacent mall space.”

“Additionally, the mall is designed as retail space and is intended to move large numbers of both pedestrians and vehicles through it and around it. Sound security planning for public safety facilities intends to control and minimize traffic around the building and is in opposition to this style of planning use.”

The fourth option involves converting the Star-Tribune building into the new headquarters.

“The current Star-Tribune site area is just over 4 acres,” the study says. “The existing programmed space requirement including building and parking fit
on the existing site but are extremely tight.”

“The railroad tracks and potential for a hazardous chemical spill merely feet behind the building represent a threat to a 24/7 critical use building operation such as that of a police building. Additionally, the building sits at an undesirable location for a public safety building being at the end of a dead-end road.”

The study recommends constructing a new building as the option providing the best value to the City of Casper.

Of the three renovation options, it recommends the Eastridge Mall option as most feasible.

The full study is included in the work packet of the city council.