$100,000 'lipstick job': officials discuss fate of public safety building


June 14, 2018

The Haines Borough Assembly discussed what should happen with the borough’s public safety building Monday, a facility that one assembly member said is “in shambles” and barely functional for its daily operations.

The public safety building on Haines Highway houses the borough’s police department and dispatch, the fire department and ambulance crew, the assembly chambers where public meetings are held, and several upstairs offices.

Borough manager Debra Schnabel presented a long list of problems with the building at the assembly’s Government Affairs and Services Committee meeting Monday. One of the most pressing issues is that it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires public buildings to be accessible.

“We’re really pushing our luck with ADA,” said facilities manager Brad Ryan. Ryan said when architects have seen the building, they can’t believe the borough has gone so long without complying. “One person files a lawsuit and we’re going to be in trouble,” Ryan said.

A high water table under the building has caused moisture and rot. Although the borough could invest in a sump pump to remove the water, the cost would be “intimidating,” Ryan said. He added that the building’s morgue, now just a room with a refrigeration unit, is not ideal.

In the fire hall, the garage doors are becoming heavy and difficult to open. Space in the two bays is also smaller than recommended to maneuver large fire trucks and equipment. Ryan said the concrete slab is sinking, and there is no exhaust ventilation system to route dangerous fumes from running vehicles out of the building.

Assembly member Heather Lende said she’s heard from community members who think the building’s peeling paint is an eyesore.

“The building doesn’t feel like it’s good money to be investing in,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the borough is interested in purchasing John Floreske’s property on Haines Highway at the corner of Sawmill Road to potentially house the police and fire departments. The land and buildings are for sale for less than $2 million. The 2.3-acre lot hosts a large shop, which could be retrofitted for the fire department, with five potential bays, and an apartment that could be converted to an ADA compliant office and bathroom. A smaller shop, ideal for the police department, can be partitioned with small and large access doors. The jail would move to the facility, as well.

Ryan said he didn’t have a cost estimate yet for the necessary upgrades to the Floreske property. Whittier recently built a new public safety building costing more than $6 million. Homer’s new police station cost $7 million, Petersburg’s police station and municipal offices cost about $9.7 million, and Skagway’s new 26,000 square-foot public safety building cost nearly $20 million.

Schnabel said if the borough purchased Floreske’s property, the public safety building would mostly likely be demolished, and public meetings could be moved to the library’s planned community room addition. Assembly member Stephanie Scott said she didn’t like the idea of moving meetings to the library, an apolitical location, and would rather have them at the Chilkat Center.

Assembly member Tresham Gregg said he didn’t want to see the building destroyed. “I hate just because we have a few issues we destroy a building we use daily,” he said.

Lende said she was concerned about moving the police and fire departments away from downtown. “I think that having the police here is a deterrent for people drinking and driving…people slow down, they look both ways and they pay attention. And for emergency response having them so close to the library, the school, the court system, the harbor, it’s really a central location,” she said.

Lende suggested the borough give the public safety building “a lipstick job” to repaint it and make it look nice while waiting for funding for a larger project. Repainting the building could cost over $100,000, Ryan said, and he’s been “vocally against it.” Brenda Josephson said she also disagreed with putting patches on the problems.

Scott said about eight years ago the borough purchased conceptual designs for a building nicknamed the “muniplex,” which would have housed the police and fire departments, the visitor’s center and assembly chambers. Assembly member Tom Morphet said it was designed with the idea of putting those departments in one energy- and heat-efficient building. Josephson said she remembers being vehemently against the “muniplex,” which could have cost up to $12 million to build. Scott said she still wanted to look at the plans so the assembly could have a vision of how to move forward.

Lende suggested the borough gradually phase out of the public safety building by building a new fire hall on the same property but continue to use the assembly chambers and police department until funding comes through for better facilities. Josephson agreed that the police and fire departments don’t need to be housed together.

A $1 million grant sought last year for the repairs was denied. To apply again this summer, Schnabel said the borough needs a clear plan. The borough has applied for a $112,000 grant for exhaust ventilation for the fire hall and is waiting to hear results.

Morphet said money should determine the course of action. No project should be started until funding is secure, he said. Assembly members said they would like to hear from fire fighters and get more information from the borough before moving forward with a plan.


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