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Details of new Warner Robins police headquarters unclear

WARNER ROBINS — The fate of the Warner Robins Police Department’s proposed new headquarters on Watson Boulevard is clouded with unknowns.

What the building will look like — and exactly how much it will cost — is still not clear. It’s not even certain whether money designated for the project will be available.

One thing that is certain is the police department needs an upgrade from its current outdated digs, and fast.

“We’ve more than outgrown that building,” Warner Robins Police Chief Brett Evans said last week of his more than 140-person work force.

ADDRESSING A NEED

Nearly every already cramped room in the building at 800 Young Ave., built in the 1960s, holds an additional cooling unit. Surge bars do the job of multisocket wall fixtures, not needed until computers became commonplace in the early ’90s for workers to do their jobs. Desks are covered with paperwork from the cases of more than one employee. In random corners throughout the building, case files from different years are stored.

Adequate space is the first thing Evans said will be addressed by the new building.

“Having to adapt to the (current) building has allowed for a major disconnect,” he said. “We’re designing the (new) building around efficiency so there’s greater cooperation between (departments).”

Evans said when he started at the department in 1987, there would have been one computer for a department of eight investigators. Now, those eight investigators each have their own computer, a necessity in today’s working world. Overcrowding and other problems typical with older buildings also are an issue.

“In the last five years, we’ve spent $50,000 on repairs alone,” Evans said. “The roof leaks like a sieve. We’ve overloaded circuit breakers and lost hours of work. It’s just something we’ve just kind of learned to live with.”

The conditions are part of the reason Warner Robins City Councilman Bob Wilbanks says he felt moving now on the project was necessary.

“If you look at the functionality of the police department, you know why they need it,” he said. “We have highly motivated people at the police department, and they have some of the best equipment in the world,” he said. “But look at the environment they have to use it (in).”

A PROBLEM WITH PROCESS

Despite Monday’s 3-2 vote to approve the location for the new building, the entire City Council sees its need.

Some just don’t agree with the present course of action.

A consulting firm brought in last year said the city would benefit more from putting something besides a new police station on the prime real estate off one of the city’s main roads. The consulting firm was paid handsomely and shouldn’t have its opinion disregarded, said Councilman John Havrilla.

“I’ve heard it stated at least twice that some commercial facility should go there,” he said.

The response during public hearings on the matter brought the same response. A location on Prince Street also had been heavily considered by the council.

“We allowed the public to give opinions, and they said we should put something else there, but never said what,” said Councilman Clifford Holmes Jr. “They also said we should put something there to revitalize the area.”

As proposed, the new headquarters would sit atop what is now Perkins Field, at the corner of Watson Boulevard and Mulberry Street, and up the street from the Homer J. Walker Jr. Municipal Complex. Putting it on Watson is part of the downtown revitalization, Mayor Donald Walker said.

“You go into any major city in the state of Georgia, the police department is always on the main street, very accessible to the public,” he said. “You see how that piece of property is situated. There’s a road on the east and west side of the building site. The hospital is on Watson Boulevard. City Hall is on Watson. Macon State College is on Watson.

“That is the synergy for the revitalization for downtown Warner Robins.”

HOW MUCH, AND FROM WHERE?

JMA Architecture Inc., the new building’s designer, presented a $10.3 million rendering of the proposed police station to the City Council last September. The council felt sticker shock and asked designers to see what they could do for $7.5 million.

Last week, the council voted to appropriate up to $9 million, including $5 million already voted on by residents.

Walker said the rest would come from money left in water and sewer SPLOST funds.

Holmes said he and Monty Walters, the city’s director of utilities, had discussed funds left in the sewer SPLOST, which were appropriated for projects in his district. Both said at Monday’s meeting that more could have been done in his jurisdiction had it been known how much money was left. Messages left for Walters were not returned.

Reappropriating SPLOST funds for projects can sometimes be tricky. Usage of the funds is agreed upon by city and county officials, then voted on by the public. If the projects were budgeted with ballpark figures and approved by voters, money can be moved around to cover budget shortfalls where other items were overbudgeted, said Clint Mueller, legislative director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

“Leftover funds first have to be used to pay off any general obligation debts,” he said. “After they’ve exhausted that, then the law says you put money in the general fund and you should use it to offset property taxes.

“If it’s a case of overbudget and underbudget, I think it’s fine what they’re doing.”

To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.

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