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City of Topeka gives first look at draft study for possible new Public Safety Building

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 5:45 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Two long-term projects could intersect as Topeka drives toward the future.

The go-ahead to rebuild the Polk-Quincy viaduct is bringing new attention to discussions over whether to relocate the Topeka and Shawnee County Law Enforcement Center.

The east side of the LEC property houses one of the city’s fleet services buildings. The green light for rebuilding the Polk Quincy viaduct takes the path to flatten the curve through the back side of the facility.

Deputy director of internal services for public works Hannah Uhlrig says that means replacing the fleet services building is a must, but, with both projects, the city has the luxury of time.

“It really is in favor of the city being more proactive and more intentional with our actions,” Uhlrig said.

Uhlrig said the facility on the LEC property is one of the city’s three fleet buildings to maintain 1100 vehicles and pieces of equipment. Over the years, the vehicles and equipment have all gotten bigger. Uhlrig said it means the city has realistically outgrown all three facilities, noting the new snowplows have one inch of clearance to pull into a bay.

“Since we know this (building at the LEC) has to change and it will in the next handful of years, so (we’re) wanting to make sure we build something that’s sustainable for the city long term,” Uhlrig said.

The new highway also will take out a corner of the LEC’s parking lot. Uhlrig says that in itself doesn’t mean the LEC must move, but a feasibility study already was underway as to how the property might fight into a new downtown Topeka master plan, which notes potential for commercial development in linking downtown to NOTO.

“This really gives us the tool and the mechanism to speak about it from an educated standpoint, instead of being reactive and not having enough information to make the best choice for the city at the time when it’s presented to us,” she said.

City council members were set to see a draft of the feasibility study at their meeting Tuesday night. The group Treanor HL developed a concept for a Public Safety Center, housing Topeka Police, Shawnee County Sheriff, emergency communications, and the coroner, plus Topeka Fire administration, municipal court and prosecution and probation offices.

TPD moved into the LEC in 1995, with the Sheriff’s Office following in 1998. The city renovated a former Montgomery Wards Department Store, with funding from a quarter-cent sales tax.

“The reality is, we’ve outgrown our needs. Our law enforcement - the digital needs, the changing needs in terms of what storage is, the evolution of how they operate within the community - has evolved. While we’ve made every effort to make this fit, it is something that, over time, isn’t likely to be sustainable,” Uhlrig said.

Uhlrig stresses neither project is set in stone. For the Fleet Building, the Polk Quincy construction isn’t slated to start until 2025; and the LEC has no timeline at all. She says it’s about being prepared.

“We’re just really wanting to make sure that, when it does come time, whether it is a new build or we have to look at retrofitting to meet our needs - whatever that case is - we have the right information to do so,” she said.

Uhlrig says potentials sites are not yet identified for either project. She says costs also are up in the air. The Treanor study proposes a 213,000 square foot public safety building. It uses costs from comparable projects that would put the price tag at $90- to $105 million.

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