WARNER ROBINS — Tonight’s meeting of the mayor and City Council regarding the proposed law enforcement center could see a timeframe for when the building, first proposed in 2005, could be up and running.
It could also be another meeting in which city officials deadlock on plans for the oft-delayed project.
The city council has entertained a handful of designs for the project, ranging from $7 million to $10 million, since early 2008. In August, to the disapproval of then-Councilmen Clifford Holmes Jr. and John Havrilla, the council voted 3-2 to approve a $10 million structure to be built atop Jimmy Perkins Memorial Field, off Watson Boulevard at Maple Street.
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 In the summer, the concrete walls sweat heavily and fans occupy additional space to compensate for an outdated cooling system, putting the files and equipment at risk for damage.
Officials soon learned a $40,000 land grant from the state received in 1980 provided for the construction of the baseball fields and tennis courts along Mulberry Street. The grant also meant dismantling the recreation site for a new building would be a longer-than-expected process.
Under the Land and Water Conservation Fund project, the land in question for the 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. City Attorney Jim 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.
“The city agreed that the property would be restricted to not being converted for other than public outdoor recreation use without the approval of the commissioner (of the state Department of Natural Resources),” Elliott said. “We’ve been in correspondence with someone with the state to find out the procedure.”
The process could have been completed in the months since the council vote, Councilman Bob Wilbanks said last week.
“We’ve known about this for a couple of months,” Wilbanks said. “This process should have been well on the way.”
Wilbanks said be brought the issue to the table back in August because it had been lingering since before he began on the council in 2008. As for the location of Perkins Field? It’s for continuity, he said.
“Everybody makes a big deal about a downtown in Warner Robins,” he said. “It makes sense to have a municipal complex in one place ... instead of buildings scattered across the city.”
He also said the decision has been made, and the city should continue along the lines of the vote made in August. Elliott said any decision made then by the council could be amended or rescinded.
Shaheen agrees that the police department is in need of new facilities, but has long said he was against tearing down the recreation facilities, citing the feelings of city residents against the idea. He has said the city should look at revitalizing one of several vacant buildings in the city to use for the new police department headquarters.
“I’m for taking the path of least resistance with the most productivity,” Shaheen said. “There are other avenues to go down. In 1968, they didn’t put it on the ball field. Why would we do it now?
“If people are upset about the closing of the post office on North Davis Drive, wait until they talk about putting (the law enforcement center) on Perkins Field.”
Councilmen Paul Shealy and John Williams said the Perkins Field area is a great place for the law enforcement center, as long as another field is rededicated to Perkins — and the red tape to get the land reclassified to use for the building doesn’t further delay the project.
“We need to be hard wired together, technologically,” Williams said of the proximity of Perkins Field to the government complex at Watson Boulevard and Myrtle Street. “We have other property we can use for ball parks.”
Shealy said he was happy when the council voted in August on the price and location for the structure. The location isn’t a big deal to him because there are other ball parks planned south of Watson Boulevard. One of them could be dedicated for Perkins, he said.
“Until we do something different, that’s — as far as I’m concerned — been done before we moved in,” Shealy said. “If it’s going to take another 8 or 10 months, then why don’t we look at building on Prince Street. That’s what I’m going to weigh my decision on.”
To contact writer Marlon A. Walker, call 256-9685.