Visalia puts funding toward police headquarters

Reggie Ellis

City Council agrees on $2.1 million contract for preliminary design of a new public safety building that will also include a new council chambers

VISALIA – The Visalia City Council may permanently move its meetings to a new location in the next few years as part of a plan to build a $26 million facility.

At its March 15 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved a $2.1 million contract with Darden Architects for the design of a two-story public safety building that will also house a new council chambers. The preliminary design of the 40,000 square foot facility will take approximately 18 months to complete before a more accurate cost of the project can be determined.

The only council member to vote against moving forward on the project was Greg Collins, who suggested having a study session on the item after it has been dormant for two years. Collins asked what the plan is for the old fire station once the police department moves out of their building on Johnson Street. Would the fire station remain there? If not, will the city need to build a new fire station? If so, would the city sell off the entire city complex to help pay for the new building, or possibly the civic center.

“To scrap the whole property and build a new facility is a waste of money,” Collins said.

Vice Mayor Phil Cox, along with Mayor Steve Nelsen, was on the committee to look at the project and said those are all still part of the discussion and none of those things have been decided yet.

“If we want to set it on fire and have a marshmallow roasting party, then we can take a vote and have a party,” Cox said.

City manager Randy Groom said part of the architectural services provided by Darden are to do a space needs analysis of the police department, fire department and a portion of services run out of city hall. The rest of the council said holding up the process would be a bigger waste of money.

“To slow this project down is counterproductive,” Nelsen said.

Collins said he was concerned with such a high price tag for a building they aren’t even sure if they need. Two years ago, he argued the city did not need more public safety administrative space, but more substations throughout the city.

“Prior to spending $2 million, I would like to know the end product, the strategy and where the money comes from,” he said.

Most of the money for the design of the project is coming from the city’s civic center fund. Formerly earmarked to build a new civic center, the council voted two years ago to reprioritize the fund toward a new public safety administration building before building a new civic center. The decision effectively pushed a new civic center another 20 years down the road.

The new public safety administration building is slated be built west of the Visalia Emergency Communications Center (VECC) along Burke Street north of School Avenue, leaving the property south of School Avenue for a future civic center. Collins said he was unhappy with the design options for that building, which was also built by Darden.

Collins said he was also concerned if the look of the building would be more compatible with the east downtown area. He said he wanted the council to have more input into what the building will look like.

“They asked the council if they wanted to change the façade material from stone to brick and that was the amount of input we had,” Collins said. “When will the city see a civic center that is not a police station?”

Despite his objections, the council voted 4-1 to sign the agreement with Darden Architects.

“This is a long-term facility and we will grow into it,” Councilmember Brian Poochigian said. “It isn’t done, and we will have a lot more input into that.”

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