Rob Douglas: How not to build a police station |

Rob Douglas: How not to build a police station

Rob Douglas

This week, the Steamboat Springs City Council examined the umpteenth iteration of what to do with the city's public safety building on Yampa Street.

But fear not. After 386 days of a process so twisted it's made the council look like Little League baseball players trying to hit their first curveball, a monumental decision finally was reached.

Are you sitting down?

Having first reviewed on March 20, 2012, a multifaceted "economic health" and "revitalization" plan calling for the sale of the public safety building to Big Agnes and the construction of a new multimillion-dollar public safety campus somewhere west of downtown, the council finally took a formal vote Tuesday agreeing the city will need a new police station of an unknown size, at an unknown location, at an unknown cost by an unknown date.

I told you it was big!

I know I shouldn't be sarcastic. But, given the circumstances, it's hard not to be jaded.

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And there are two more unknowns — perhaps the most consequential of all.

If the council greenlights a new police headquarters, it's unknown where the fire equipment on the ground floor of the current building will be housed. Incredibly, this issue wasn't raised by a single member of the council or management team.

The most recent plan presented to the council several months ago — there've been so many plans, it's hard to keep track — called for the construction of a new fire station west of downtown in order to reduce response times for folks living in that area. Even if the fire equipment temporarily is housed on Yampa Street at the Search and Rescue Barn or at Yampa Valley Electric Association — options previously discussed — there still would be pressure to build a new fire station west of town in the near future.

The preliminary design for the new police station presented to the council this week by city-retained architects — remember, this doesn't include a new fire station — is a 25,649-square-foot building. For perspective, that's more than 300 percent larger than the current facility and 58 percent larger than anything previously proposed to the council.

That leads to the biggest unknown. Can the city afford a new police station given competing demands for city funds that still are under pressure following the Great Recession? Those competing fiscal demands include city employee compensation issues that no longer can be delayed, a stormwater infrastructure upgrade plan that will be before the council in July and long-deferred maintenance of existing infrastructure.

From the start of this project in 2011, when the city management team first talked with Big Agnes about buying the public safety building, this project has been a backward mess. Instead of presenting a new or remodeled police station as a standalone need, absent private sector "economic health" or "revitalization" considerations, the city management team advanced the proposal as economic development in an attempt to sugarcoat an expensive pill. In fact, the initial proposal to council in March 2012 was styled, "Presentation Outlining Plan to Move the Public Safety Campus from Yampa to promote economic health of the community and the continued revitalization of Yampa Street."

The wasted personnel time and financial resources resulting from that botched proposal serve as a shining example of how not to operate government and, specifically, how not to build a police station. But, to be clear, the fault lies with the council, not the management team.

The genesis of this fiasco can be traced directly to the moment a majority of this council decided economic development was its primary goal and, significantly, a key metric for evaluating the city manager. The belief by some members of the council that they can drive economic development in Steamboat by means of selling or developing city assets is as ludicrous as the belief by previous councils that they could provide affordable housing by passing unworkable laws and purchasing the Iron Horse Inn — acts that continue to harm Steamboat economically.

It's time the council cast aside its economic development delusions of grandeur and return to the basics of running the city based on the actual needs of the city. If the council follows that path, the decisions will come faster and easier.

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