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City purchases medical building on Northeast Elm to replace aging facility unfit for law enforcement and dispatch work

JASON CHANEY - The city of Prineville has purchased this former medical buidling on Northeast Elm Street with plans to make it the new office of the Prineville Police Department.

The Prineville Police Department building has been in bad shape for a while now.

Before Dale Cummins took over as police chief in 2015, police leadership had already conducted a seismic study from which it was determined the building would not withstand a major earthquake.

Cummins took a look at the study early in his tenure and decided to pick up the ball and perhaps find a way to renovate the structure. He applied for a grant and was awarded $1.2 million to make repairs. It turns out the dollar amount – the most that could be awarded – wasn't going to be enough.

Engineers came out to look at the more than 60-year-old structure, and as they examined it, the news kept getting worse and worse. Ultimately, it would cost between $3 and $4 million to make the repairs necessary to house a police department and dispatch center.

"At that point, I talked to the city management team about my concerns," Cummins recalls.

This resulted in the hire of another independent engineering firm to see if similar conclusions would be reached.

"That engineer came back and said that their honest opinion is it would be cheaper to knock down the building and rebuild it than to try to fix it," he said.

The 1956 structure had foundation problems, definitive structural issues and leaks everywhere.

"Add to that, this building was never built to be a PD (police department)," Cummins said. "We just fit a PD and a dispatch center in it as best we could."

He noted that nearly half of the facility is unusable for police and dispatch purposes. That unusable space includes an old wrought iron boiler room, garage space, and an open courtyard within the middle of the building. In addition, the dispatch center lies between the officers' report writing rooms and the sergeants' offices, meaning staff has to walk through the dispatch area on a regular basis.

"We really shouldn't have people walking through there," Cummins remarked.

Given the situation, city and police leaders began looking into other options. Recently, they found one, targeting a former medical building on Northeast Elm Street, just north of the new Lutheran Community Services Northwest facility.

"It's two stories, recently built (2004) and has a full basement," Cummins said of the building. "It is three times the size of the current PD, and structurally, we can lay it out correctly."

He and other city leaders determined that they could use the first floor to house the police department, the second floor for the dispatch center, and utilize the basement to store evidence.

"It just fit," he remarked.

City Manager Steve Forrester and Finance Director Liz Schuette crunched the numbers, and thanks to a favorable financial situation and credit history, determined they could secure a $4 million loan to purchase the building. The money would also provide enough funds to hire engineers and architects for the project and fund any necessary construction.

"We don't have to go out for a levy. We don't have to ask the taxpayers for any money," Cummins said. "This is a win-win."

The city has since purchased the building and has asked an engineering company to come out and evaluate how seismically sound the structure is. In addition, an architect has been hired to design the first floor for the police department.

Adding to the appeal of the building, Cummins noted that it was built in such a way that none of the interior walls are load bearing. This design feature enables different interior wall configurations depending on who occupied it.

"They did it that way because it was a medical center and if they wanted to open an area and make it a physical therapy room (for example), they could do that," he said. "We have this opportunity to move non-load bearing walls around and put new walls in as we see fit."

In addition, because the building was designed for medical purposes, it features a lot of electrical and water system extras. And its location is well outside the flood plain, ensuring the dispatch center is not vulnerable to a flood.

"That's important because if we lose the dispatch center, we have no coordination in an emergency," Cummins remarked.

The police department has not yet reached out to neighbors near the building, though Cummins said he plans to do so in the near future. He acknowledges that people in the area raised concerns when the former hospital site was considered for a new jail, but he expects a different reaction to a police department moving into the neighborhood.

"I think they are going to be happy with it because they have had increased activity up there," he said. "The important part for us is there are no prisoners up there. We are not going to hold anybody up there. We think it is going to be a very positive facility."

Cummins added that they will work to keep siren and police car light use to a minimum. He points out that officers will have easy access to both Main and Third streets and in most situations, officers could wait until reaching those roads before activating lights and sirens.

"We don't have such a call volume that we are running sirens all the time," he added.

No specific timeframe is yet established for opening the new police department building, but Cummins estimates it will take 12 to 18 months. Meanwhile, a decision needs to be made about the building they leave behind.

"It is really a city management issue, so what happens with the building will be something I'm sure the city will discuss with the county," he said.

Possible plans could include selling it, providing it to the county for use, or knocking it down and turning it into extra city parking.

"There are some different options there," Cummins concluded.


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