WR council alters law enforcement center plans

WARNER ROBINS — City Council approved plans to go ahead with the building of the original concept for the city’s new law enforcement center with a few small changes, Councilman Bob Wilbanks said.

Just before convening its meeting late Monday night, the council found itself engaged in debate about specifics of the project, which was listed for discussion on the night’s agenda. Under the terms of the agreement, approved by a 4-2 vote were the selection of the original design of the building, submitted by Perry company JMA Architecture to the council in 2008, and budgeting up to $9.5 million for the project. One change to the design was expanding a training facility to seat 75 people.

Wilbanks said he discussed his plans for Monday night’s meeting with Mayor Chuck Shaheen last week and then verified them through e-mail to the mayor and council.

“It was not a surprise,” Wilbanks said. “I don’t think there’s anything that was left out there on the agenda request.”

The council also approved charging City Attorney Jim Elliott with researching ways to fund up to $4.5 million of the cost of the building. Voters set aside $5 million for the construction of a new building for the Warner Robins Police Department in a 2005 special purpose local option sales tax.

Elliott is now charged with bringing forth ideas for additional funding at the next council meeting.

Shaheen said he felt there were other, more cost-effective options for getting the police department in a new building that were not being fully researched. He also said the actions by part of the council to continue to be divisive of the group as a whole need to end.

“This is the biggest issue facing the city other than (the Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership), and we need to be on one accord,” he said. He and new council members “came in halfway on this administration and we’re not on the same page.”

The board continued to disagree about the use of Jimmy Perkins Field, the proposed site for the new complex, and how other options could present better situations for the city to pursue. The park is in close proximity to the Homer J. Walker Jr. Municipal Complex, which allows for the two buildings to be easily wired together and present the beginnings of a government center.

To use the field, the city will need to go through a process with the state and federal governments to lift a restriction on what can currently be built there. 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. The grant program specifies ways for the restriction to be transferred to other property so the city may use the land for other means.

Any action ultimately has to be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and could take up to two years.

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.

“This thing has been kicked around since 2005 and it’s a shame it hasn’t been done before now,” Wilbanks said. “It’s no secret they need a law enforcement center. And there’s no sense in delaying it.”

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