Our View: Getting the cop shop right

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City of Steamboat Springs staff and the Steamboat Springs City Council settled this week on three very practical sites from which to choose a final location for a new police station. 

And with the results of a 2013 space-needs assessment of the existing building in hand to justify the need, we think the city has done the diligence necessary to justify spending $300,000 on designing and planning the new facility. That step could lead to construction of a new $10-million-plus police services building outside the city’s historic commercial district. 

As many residents of Steamboat Springs are aware, the path to a new police station has involved a lot of twists and turns beginning in late 2011, when city officials were prepared to sell the downtown fire and police stations (both under one roof) to a local business. The ill-considered plan was to sell the current facilities first, then figure out how to house police and fire in temporary accommodations until the city could build a new police station at the Stock Bridge Transit Center on the city’s west side. Stockbridge is no longer in consideration as the new site. Instead, three sites located either on or in close proximity to U.S. Highway 40 between downtown and Steamboat Ski Area now top the list.

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The 2011 plans were initiated by former City Manager Jon Roberts, who was eager to get the police and fire stations off Yampa Street (not an altogether bad idea), and carried forward into late autumn 2012 by current City Manager Deb Hinsvark.

Those plans were scrapped in February 2013, and the city wisely hit the reset button.

This time around, we think the city is on track with a logical process that holds the promise of delivering a critical new city facility that will carry police service beyond the year 2050. As City Council President Bart Kounovsky put it this week, “Every 40 years, you have to address core issues like a police station.”

It’s difficult to argue with that simple wisdom.

The current station was built on top of the 43-year-old fire station on Yampa Street in 1980. But age alone is not enough to conclude the old police station needs to be replaced. 

The space-needs study of the existing police station was undertaken by a specialized architectural and planning firm in consultation with a local architect.

It concluded: “The existing building is severely overcrowded, lacking suitable space for staff visitors and the normal equipment used by a modern police department. This complicates routine police activities such as properly processing and storing evidence, interviewing and detaining suspects.”

The 88-page report also described some shortcomings in security provisions at the existing police station. 

“One of the weaknesses of the existing building is its lack of secure zones for key activities,” the report said. “The new police facility should include a police garage and parking area that has a secure and opaque exterior wall” to facilitate “movement of suspects, informants and evidence in and out of the building.”

The key, according to the study, is that the building site must comprise three zones: a public zone, secure zone and service zone.

We also want to remind readers of the Steamboat Pilot & Today that Chief Joel Rae offered weekly tours of the police station in March 2013.

It didn’t need to be this hard, but now that the city is engaged in a logical, well-thought-out path toward building a new police station, we are prepared to support taking the next step and designing the building. 

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