Police in Oswego, Illinois, have outgrown their 25-year-old, 24,000-square-foot headquarters and are upgrading to a new 80,000-square-foot facility, but citizens question the $35-million price tag.
Orlando, Florida, broke ground just last year on a new 96,000-square-foot police headquarters. The new building’s energy-efficient features will save taxpayers an estimated $2 million annually. What does such a shiny new edifice cost? $41.5 million.
Finally, residents in St. Petersburg, Florida, are concerned with the price of their new 167,519-square-foot, green-certified police facility. The building comes complete with solar panels and a new firing range a mile away. Cost to taxpayers? $81 million.
I didn’t cherry pick these projects for cost-efficiency. These are simply the first three comparable new police stations to come up on a Google search.
But here in Seattle, a large majority of the Seattle City Council and Mayor Ed Murray are prepared to dismiss public criticism of what will — at $149 million for about 60,000 square feet — be the most expensive police station in the nation.
Let’s do some basic math. What is the average per-square-foot construction cost for a modern police station in 2016? In Oswego, it’s $437. In Orlando, just $432. In St. Petersburg, the price creeps up to $484.
Here in profligate Seattle, even after deferring $11 million in expenses from the latest $160 million price tag, the new facility will cost $2,483 per square foot. More than five times what other cities are currently paying.
Sometimes, I think this city has lost its damn mind.
But to say this is “insane” is far too glib. There are other, more consistent reasons for the outrageous price tag.
This is what Seattle corruption looks like. Polite, costly and covered in the rhetoric of inevitability.
I don’t question the need for a new facility.
During a recent tour of the North Precinct with Councilmember Kshama Sawant, members of the media and local activists such as Seattle King County NAACP President Gerald Hankerson, I saw a building that had more the feel of a rundown, overcrowded nonprofit than a modern police station.
Officers are cramped and share desks across three shifts. Sightlines are poor to nonexistent. A water pump runs constantly in the basement to prevent flooding. The ragtag gym in the basement is crowded and illuminated with fluorescent tubes.
The prisoner transfer room is a small, garage-like area that doubles as a bike repair and storage shop. The prisoner holding area is cramped and jury-rigged to comply with federal law.
The briefing room that must accommodate 80 officers per shift was built for more like 50. Their employee break room, which they didn’t bother to clean prior to the press tour, is a dingy, cheap affair that invites depression.
At the conclusion of the tour, standing in the front parking area, Hankerson asked what I thought.
“They need a new station,” I said, “but not the one they want.”
He smiled and we did a little “I cannot believe this shit” fist bump. “Exactly,” he replied.
Earlier this month, Mayor Murray released the city’s new Pathways Home strategic plan. While the document is based on national best practices and heralds a long overdue shake-up in human services contract management, it contains no new dollars, other than the recently doubled housing levy, to build the housing upon which success depends.
So far, critics have focused on how the opulent new station seems to reward police for their history of racial bias and noncompliance with reform. There is that, but that’s not the core issue.
The cost of the proposed facility could build 1,000 new units of low-income housing in a time of tremendous need.
This is not the time to buy Seattle police the pony they want for Christmas. While they may be a little disappointed to find a new Schwinn under the tree instead, ultimately, this is a matter of what Seattle can reasonably afford.
Any relatively unspoiled child would understand.