WARNER ROBINS — City Council set in motion a plan that seeks to lift a land restriction on what can be built at Jimmy Perkins Memorial Field in a special meeting that at times became tense.
The meeting was held in the second-floor conference room Monday to discuss the city’s proposed law enforcement center, which has lagged since funds were approved in a 2006 special purpose local option sales tax referendum. Monday night, the council approved a motion charging City Attorney Jim Elliott to get appraisals on land west of the Homer J. Walker Jr. Civic Center to Maple Street currently being used for recreation purposes, and another similar city-owned parcel of land.
The move is the first in line of moves the city would have to make to ask the federal government to lift land restrictions on the land west of the civic center, including Perkins Field, so the law enforcement center could be built there.
“I feel great because we’re moving forward,” Councilman Bob Wilbanks said Monday night.
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Under the Land and Water Conservation Fund project, the land in question for Perkins Park, from the Homer J. Walker Jr. Civic Center west to Maple Street off Watson Boulevard, is to be used solely for outdoor recreation purposes. The project gave $30,000 to the city for construction of recreation facilities at the site. Elliott said the grant program specifies ways for the restriction to be transferred to other property so that the city may use the land for other means. That includes finding a similarly priced parcel of land in the city to use specifically for recreation purposes. The transfer ultimately has to be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and could take up to two years.
Some officials didn’t learn of the land restriction until after the council approved a move in August to build the new law enforcement center atop Perkins Field.
During Monday night’s discussion, officials from Perry-based JMA Architecture and Warner Robins construction firm International City Builders presented a timeline to city officials and audience members giving the status of the procedure to get the project complete. Jim Mehserle of JMA Architecture said plans had been prepared on both the Perkins Field site and a site along Prince Street, the alternative location for the police complex, showing how much work would have to be done to make either option work.
Officials also showed a concept sketch of a two-story brick building with a glass entryway, and a diagram showed the two floors of the building and how the various departments would fit inside. That plan has been scrapped in favor of a single-story building, Mehserle said.
Council members discussed the price of the structure, which has fluctuated between $5 and $10 million over the years. Sketches were drawn up for various prices. Councilman Paul Shealy seemed in favor of the $10 million design, questioning the ability of the department to grow in the proposed $7.5 million facility. He asked Warner Robins Police Chief Brett Evans if the smaller building could be suitable for the department given its projected growth. Evans said no.
“I think we need to address (size issues) for tomorrow, not just for today,” he said. “I don’t want to build it and we hand over the keys to the chief, and go back a year later and he says we need more.”
Mayor Chuck Shaheen spoke of putting the complex on the Prince Street site, he said, because the option offered the “path of least resistence.”
“But if a motion’s been made, and it was passed, then it’s a law,” Shealy said.
“But it can be rescinded,” Shaheen replied.
“It’s still a law,” Shealy said. “If you’re going to rescind it, how’s that gonna look for (future votes)?”
“They voted on it without knowing the guidelines (of the land restriction),” Shaheen said.
Councilman Tom Simms Jr., who voted along with Wilbanks and Councilman John Williams in August to place the complex atop Perkins Field, said progress on the project still needed to be made.
“Yes, the vote was made (in August) with information at hand,” he said. “Was it all presented? No. since then, we’ve had some more information presented to us. I’m happy we’re here now, obviously it’s a big step.”
Councilman Daron D. Lee, who was sworn in last month, said it appeared officials were fighting over the wrong thing.
“We’re putting more emphasis on the place than the necessity of the building,” he said. “Bottom line is we need a law enforcement center.”
A failed attempt to adjourn the meeting came when Wilbanks tried shifting gears in the meeting to discuss ways to fund it. A representative from Wachovia Bank was present to discuss his company’s idea for helping to fund the complex. Few of the elected officials seemed to know he was there.
“I’ve got to be informed when these people come,” Shaheen said. “I’m the mayor. All I’m asking is give me a phone call, Bob. Send me a text. I have an open door policy.”
Wilbanks said he spoke to Warner Robins Development Agency director Gary Lee before the meeting Monday about being present to discuss the financial side of the project. Lee contacted the Wachovia representative, Wilbanks said.
The Warner Robins Police Department, currently housed at 800 S. Young Ave., has outgrown its current building, completed in 1968. Filing cabinets and state-of-the-art machinery sit in hallways and conveniently carved out corners. In the summer, the concrete walls sweat heavily and fans occupy additional space to compensate for an outdated cooling system, putting the files and equipment at risk for damage.
Next up for the council is working to determine how to pay for the building. The council’s August vote set aside $10 million for the project. Only $5 million was approved for its construction in the 2006 SPLOST.
To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.