Prineville's police chief and other city leaders are looking for the best way to deal with an aging law enforcement building that has numerous problems

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The Prineville Police Department building has leaky roofs, mold problems and would collapse during a major earthquake according to engineer studies.

The condition of Prineville's current jail, which is located inside the walls of the police department building, is well documented.

In short, the facility is so old and in such a state of disrepair, it was time to build a new space.

Turns out, the same could be said for the remainder of the police department building, and Chief Dale Cummins and other city leaders are trying to figure out what to do next.

When he took charge of the department in 2015, Cummins quickly learned that the building had major structural issues. For starters, a prior study had determined that the facility, which houses the department, jail and dispatch service, would not withstand a major earthquake.

"We then applied for a grant by the state for seismic renovation," Cummins said. "The good part was we got a $1.2 million grant to seismically upgrade the building. That was a large grant approval. Even the state recognized the building had serious seismic issues.

But as local leaders began to peel back the layers and examine the facility more closely, it became readily apparent that even that sum of money wouldn't be enough to fix everything.

"With that $1.2 million, we hired an engineering firm and started looking at what we needed to do to fix it," Cummins said. "The problem was every time the engineers came out, they discovered more and more issues with the building."

And not all of the repairs qualify to get funded by the grant. Only ones that can be classified as "seismic upgrades" are covered by the $1.2 million.

Other building issues include a leaky roof, which has led to mold problems in the building. Single-pane windows in the facility have not been replaced since it was constructed in 1956.

"It was never meant to be a PD," Cummins added. "It wasn't built for that, it was a city hall. So the interior layout is not efficient."

He noted that an outdoor patio inside the building is essentially unusable for police business, a non-functioning boiler is taking up space in a boiler room that is going unused and a parking garage in back likewise has no use. Also the dispatch center is located in the middle of the police department facility, meaning police have to work around it.

"The money just kept ringing up. We went way past the $1.2 million (amount)," Cummins said. "So with the costs ramping up, we started having conversations about other options. We decided to bring in an independent engineer, one that is not invested in making money on this, and have them take a look at the building. That person came out and said that this building from foundation to roof is a mess, and it is going to cost millions of dollars to get it fixed."

The situation has prompted Cummins and other city leaders to consider what options are best to ultimately provide the Prineville Police Department and 911 dispatch suitable facilities. He said he is currently looking at every option, from renovating the existing building, to purchasing another facility or building a structure from scratch on city-owned land.

"The (city) budget committee strongly recommended that we get the dispatch center off the floor, because we are in the floodplain," Cummins said. "Can I move us up off of the valley floor? What does that look like? Is it the PD and the dispatch center or just the dispatch center?"

Knowing that whatever solution rose to the top would come at a substantial cost, Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester and City Finance Director Liz Schuette began looking into a way to fund a new public safety facility. Wanting to avoid a tax levy request, they looked into how much the city could borrow while remaining fiscally responsible.

The number they arrived at was $4 million, and earlier this month, the Prineville City Council approved a resolution that will allow the city to borrow up to that amount.

Since that approval, Cummins has continued to weigh different options, but at this point no firm decisions have been made.

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