Conversations continue about plan to move city's police station

In what Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt called the 'first of many conversations,' the West Linn City Council listened to citizen questions, comments and concerns regarding the latest site proposed for a new West Linn police station at a community conversation Monday night.

At the meeting, citizens and city councilors heard details of the site selection process from Brett Hanson, a representative of Group MacKenzie, the architecture firm that has performed site due diligence and space needs assessment studies for the project in the last few years.

Armed with information provided by Group MacKenzie, members of a citizen task force - formed last year after voters turned down a $10.7 million bond measure to fund construction of a new station on Parker Road - considered 16 potential sites to house a new police station. The current station - a dilapidated structure located on Willamette Drive - was built in the 1930s, does not comply with modern building code, is seismically unsafe and cannot be expanded.

After considering factors such as site terrain, access, availability, proximity to other city services, compatability with the neighborhood and restraints such as easements and wetlands, the group recommended a site on Eighth Avenue in the Willamette Neighborhood as its top choice.

The 1.5-acre site, comprising two lots on Eighth Avenue and two on 13th Street, meets the 24,000-square-foot facility program requirement estimated by Group MacKenzie and provides room for possible future building expansions.

On June 6, the West Linn City Council voted unanimously to move ahead with plans to purchase the properties for a total cost of $1.45 million. The purchases are contingent on voter approval of a bond measure in November, and, on July 11, the council will vote on whether to include such a measure on the November ballot.

Hanson said the current cost estimate for the project, including acquisition, permitting and construction, is $8.5 milion.

At Monday's meeting, most citizens who testified, many of whom were task force members, supported building a new station at the proposed Eighth Avenue site.

Here's a sampling of the opinions residents shared:

* 'When you take an office building and try and turn it into a police station, … it looks like a Frankenstein experiment. … This area is so inadequately supported by public transport, (the Eighth Avenue location) will give people access they wouldn't have before.'

- Dan Kraus, Portland Police officer

* 'We need to think of it as a need, not a want. I'm concerned some other wants in the community would scatter and detract from the need to get this project underway.'

- Charles Mansfield, retired Milwaukie police chief

* 'We still have to see more than just a footprint to get this passed.'

- Dennis Richey, task force member

* 'Today, we can buy money cheaper, materials cheaper, labor cheaper than it has been for a long time. A bond now will give me a better rate than in the future.'

- Grant Oakes, task force member, retired citizen on a fixed income

* 'We (need to) move them into a new facility, a different facility, as soon as possible. We should do it in a building that already exists and should do it in a building that's already been paid for … (next to city hall) … It seems insane to spend $8.5 million to build a facility when the city already owns one.'

- Charles Roberts, retired prosecutor

Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt provided clarification in that the city of West Linn does not own the building next to city hall.

"The city shares Mr. Robert's interest in a cost effective police station, unfortunately, the building next door does not provide a cost savings, as the architects estimate it would cost upwards of $10 million to acquire and remodel,' she said after the meeting.

'This is going to be a learning process for all of us,' agreed city councilor Jenni Tan.

And, for West Linn residents who missed Monday's meeting and are interested in learning more, a similar presentation and conversation will be held at a special meeting of the Willamette Neighborhood Assocation July 6 at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Willamette Fire Station, located at 1860 Willamette Falls Drive, and will include a trip to the proposed site. The public is welcome to attend.

A political action committee has also already formed to support the passage of this measure, headed by task force co-chair Bill Hill.

City council and staff members will take the questions and comments heard at these public outreach meetings into consideration as part of the community's discussion of the proposed new police station.

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