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Wednesday, March 5,2014

The ‘fast track’

The Bernero administration wants to close the police department’s North Precinct and spend $1M to move to the South Side

by Andy Balaskovitz
The Bernero administration has been quietly planning since the summer to move police operations out of the North Precinct to a community center owned by the Lansing School District on the far South Side.

But the latest chapter in the ongoing story of where to put the Lansing Police Department — which could involve spending $1 million to move the department temporarily into another leased space — appears to contradict the administration’s stated goal of a long-term, cityowned home for the LPD in a central part of the city.

For at least four years, the city has been looking at consolidating all of its police operations into one building. It has paid local architecture and engineering firm C2AE $187,000, according to the city’s internal auditor, for a study that has remained in draft form for the past two years. The city has leased 24,000 square feet since 1997 from local private developer Harry Hepler for the LPD’s North Precinct, which it’s leaving by Aug. 31. It leases the space for more than $300,000 a year near the Saginaw/Larch streets intersection.

The draft study contemplates a police/courts consolidation at the city-owned South Washington Office Complex south of REO Town — which could cost between $2.8 million and $43 million depending on the extent of renovations, according to the draft study — and also staying at the North Precinct. Hepler said two years ago he was willing to sell the North Precinct portion of his Prudden Tech Centre for $3.4 million. The city jail and LPD’s administrative offices are in City Hall, while its investigations bureau and patrol unit are at the North Precinct. The city closed the South Precinct in 2012 to cut costs.

Chad Gamble, Lansing’s chief operating officer, said in an email Tuesday afternoon that the draft study “will continue to be important to our ongoing assessment of long-term options for the city’s law enforcement facilities.”

As for the move, Gamble said the city was “unable to secure a shortterm lease” with Hepler at the North Precinct and that the Hill Center was one of “several alternatives” explored.

But Hepler said he’s been willing to work with the administration — if only it would meet with him.

“We have always been prepared to meet with the City, and with a clear understanding of their shortterm needs and long-term plans offer extension terms that would create a savings and flexibility to exit as new, permanent facilities are developed,” Hepler said in a statement Tuesday. “Although we are now planning to fill the LPD’s space with private sector tenants upon the expiration of their lease, we would stand by our commitment to the City and our surrounding neighborhoods should the City find a need in or economic benefit to extending their current lease.”

Still, the administration is forging ahead with the school district. Lease details have not been disclosed. But the latest plan, which Gamble and Police Chief Mike Yankowski presented to the Lansing School Board on Feb. 20, is a break from both of the options originally studied by C2AE. Documents provided by the city’s internal auditor show a purchase order for $14,900 to pay C2AE for an analysis of moving into the Hill Center. A letter from C2AE to the city shows conversations about the Hill Center started before July 30.

In his presentation, Gamble said the city is proposing to spend over $1 million in building improvements at the Hill Center, including new paint, carpeting, ceiling tiles and light fixtures. The city would share the space with the school district, which uses the other half as a community center. The 152,000-square-foot space to be leased at Hill is also six times the size of the North Precinct. After the lease expires at the North Precinct on Aug. 31, Gamble told the school board the city is exploring a four-year lease with the school district. “There’s a lot of discussion about what the future of the police department will hold. Perhaps it will be this location,” he said

As of Tuesday afternoon, Lansing City Councilwoman Carol Wood knew “very little” about the proposal, aside from what she’s read in the media. She questions where the money for renovations would come from and she’s concerned about the location.

“To me, I’m thinking that far south defeats some of the information we’ve already been given” about the importance of a centralized location, she said. “Second of all, I’m not a fan at all of us leasing buildings.

“It doesn’t make sense to use $1 million of taxpayer dollars to renovate a building we don’t own to walk away from. … To me, that’s a big issue.”

Councilwoman Jody Washington, whose 1st Ward constituents will lose a significant police presence when LPD moves out of the North Precinct, said she’s suggested to the mayor opening a smaller substation in her ward.

“I’m OK with it,” she said of the plan.

“For sure it’s been nice having them in the 1st Ward.”

Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul called it a “value-added partnership” that fulfills part of the district’s strategic plan for using vacant buildings.

Any proposal would be subject to school board approval. The administration appears to be in the final stages of making a formal proposal and board President Peter Spadafore has indicated a vote could be held this month after public meetings.

“We are on quite a bit of a fast track with this one,” Gamble told the school board.

District/city partnership

The Lansing School Board is scheduled to discuss the Hill Center lease proposal at its meeting Thursday 6:30 p.m.

Administration Building 519 W. Kalamazoo St., Lansing


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