After 10 years of debate, Bexley has taken a big step toward building a new police station, after City Council on April 22 approved a contract to buy property on Delmar Avenue for the facility.
"This is a big night for the police department, but it’s a bigger night for our children and grandchildren, who want to have a safe environment," Police Chief Larry Rinehart said after council authorized the mayor to sign the purchase contract for $320,000 for 1.6 acres on the city’s northern border.
"This will provide a strong foundation for the police department long after most of us are gone," added Rinehart, who has warned that the outdated facilities would hurt crime fighting in years to come.
Construction is expected to cost around $6 million. Officials are setting their sights on a September groundbreaking.
"Tonight is really the launching phase of getting this project underway," commented Lee Nathans, chairman of the Citizens Police Advisory Committee, who has pushed for a new station for the better part of a decade. "This is one of the most important legacies you will leave."
Representatives have long agreed that the 55-year-old building, once a fire station, is too small and antiquated for a modern law enforcement agency, lacking office, training and locker space.
A major stumbling block, along with financing in a city with numerous infrastructure needs, has been where to locate a new station.
The earliest plans would have rebuilt the station on the site of the current building, behind city hall. That would have kept the cops on Main Street, but would have required finding a temporary location for police operations.
A proposal floated last year recommended moving the service garage and building the station at the back of the city lot, and renovating the existing station for public meetings.
Shortly after taking office in January, City Councilman Ben Kessler convinced his colleagues to scrap the plan to move the service department, arguing that it would be too expensive and time-consuming.
Kessler instead proposed the purchase of the Delmar property, which quickly received the approval of the rest of council and Mayor John Brennan, who entered into negotiations for the purchase.
The plan also had the chief’s approval. Locating the station on the city’s north end would not affect response time, since officers deploy from their cruisers on patrol, Rinehart explained.
Most of the architectural designs completed up to this point can be used for the Delmar site, according to architect David King of Horne and King.
But some revisions for the relocation will be necessary, and council approved an appropriation of $105,245 for the additional work, which King said would start the next day.
Starting from scratch would also allow the city to construct a more environmentally efficient building, Kessler said.
To accomplish this, council approved a $95,920 appropriation for services from Heapy Engineering to oversee the project under the standards of Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED).
The LEED program standards include such items as using and recycling construction materials to energy-efficient windows and heating systems.
Councilwoman Robyn Jones noted that the expectation is that the city will recoup the fee in cost savings to operate the building.
King applauded the council members for taking this step, saying that it would put Bexley on the "cutting-edge" of municipalities.
Kessler concurred that "it’s important to show leadership in environmental issues."
Council still plans to renovate the existing station for city meetings. The council chambers at City Hall are on the second floor are not handicap accessible.
Money for mansion promised
The next big project on council’s agenda is the renovation of Jeffrey Mansion and Park.
A resolution accepting the Jeffrey Mansion Commission’s Master Plan, which calls for a $10 million make-over of the building and grounds, received its second reading and will be heard for the third time May 13.
The plan has run into some stiff public opposition, largely over a recommendation to allow alcohol to be served at private events and a proposed expansion of parking into wooded areas to the north and south of the mansion.
Some residents have also questioned the financing of the renovations as outlined by Pete Halliday of the Bexley Heritage Fund.
Halliday reported to council that his goal is to raise $12 million, and he has verbal commitments for half of that amount already.
He hopes that having those pledges will spur the community to come up with the rest of the money.
Halliday’s plan is to have a bank provide a loan based on these commitments, with the donors responsible for paying the principal and the city paying only the interest.
The ultimate goal is to have make the mansion’s operations self-sustaining, rather than a drain on the city’s budget, Halliday explained.
"In two years it will blow your mind," Halliday predicted of the potential revenue from private rentals.
Without a management plan, the alternative is to allow the mansion to continue to be drain on city resources and to eventually tear it down, Halliday cautioned.
In contrast to the vocal opposition to the plan, Halliday plans to run a newspaper ad with hundreds of names of people who support the blueprint.
In other business, Councilman Rick Weber announced that a meeting to discuss sidewalk assessments and inspections will be held April 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the community room of the Cassingham school complex.