With a decision looming on the future of the Law Enforcement Center, Crow Wing County commissioners asked for and received more options.
Tuesday afternoon during a budget workshop, commissioners were wading through an endless sea of numbers. Possible costs for a remodeled Law Enforcement Center (LEC) or a new one ranged from $7 million to more than $18 million.
“We need direction to go forward with the project,” said Sheriff Todd Dahl. “I wholeheartedly support this and I think this is something that is much needed in our county.”
The 2004 campus building plan envisioned a future new LEC connected to the jail, which was designed to accommodate it down the road. The new LEC would go up in the public parking lot across from historic courthouse on Laurel Street in downtown Brainerd. The idea was to tear down the old LEC, constructed in the 1970s, and create a parking plaza in its place.
For the county board, the question is whether this is the right time to take on the construction spending and, if so, at what level. The sheriff’s department has previously reported its space crunch. The investigative unit is housed in a former garage. Parking is at a premium.
Dahl said people think the sheriff’s department is already in the jail facility.
“A team concept is really something I take great pride in,” Dahl said.
He said it was more difficult to create that concept between corrections, dispatch and road staff when separated by a street.
“We have to start looking and really touching base on future needs we don’t want to be in this same position in five years, or seven or eight years,” Dahl said.
The sheriff added he didn’t think phasing in a new LEC was the best alternative. “We are really looking at direction from you,” Dahl told the board Tuesday. He said he questioned how he would react if he were in their shoes.
“I’m a very bull-headed Type A personality,” Dahl said, adding he has to be convinced to go forward. “In this situation I was convinced.”
Dahl said he was looking ahead for the county and for the sheriff who will come after him. While he understood the difficult economic times remain, Dahl said he believed the time was right for this project.
Chairman Doug Houge asked Dahl to prioritize needs. Dahl responded by noting the department has a number of vehicles stored at the Highway Department by the airport and that in an emergency response time is critical.
“I think that’s something we have to keep in mind,” Dahl said.
Houge said he wasn’t sure that was an answer to his question and he said the squad cars for on-duty deputies will still be parked outside their offices, adding they weren’t running across the street for a response vehicle. Houge said he was looking at a number of options including construction in phases so a priority list would be helpful whether it was parking or space for investigators that was most needed.
The county sheriff’s department stores vehicles in six different places but not those being used everyday. Constructing a vehicle storage facility behind the jail would eliminate about 100 parking spaces and potentially block the jail design for future expansion.
Commissioner Phil Trusty questioned how Wold Architects and Engineers came to provide the space needs assessment for the proposal. Wold submitted the lowest of four proposals and the firm’s experience with similar projects in other counties along with its previous work in Crow Wing County were noted.
Dahl said the sheriff’s department has been making do with what it has for several years, including fitting in the new 800 megahertz radio equipment in existing space. The equipment, however, is in a room with out the proper heating and cooling and fire suppression. Commissioners said it’s not as if the county didn’t know it was getting the long-anticipated new radio equipment. Administrator Tim Houle said they were reluctant to make the investment with the uncertainty of which direction the board would go.
Houge said it may sound like the board is pounding on the subject, but “It’s not an easy sell to convince the public right now that this is needed.”