The Tullahoma Police Department is one step closer to having its brand new facility.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the Tullahoma Municipal Regional Planning Commission approved a site plan for the new police station, which will be built next to the current police station on West Grundy Street on land donated by Fran and Dan Marcum.

While the site plan approval is a good step in the process, Police Chief Paul Blackwell said there is still a way to go before the city will be able to “turn dirt” on the project.

“There’s still several things that have to be done in between,” he said.

 

Needed spaces

The current police department, which was built in 1955, sees all the 37 officers working in extremely cramped quarters.

“If you go around and look at some of our offices, you’ll see that many of the people that work in the headquarters day to day are cramped,” Blackwell said. “There’s no room for expansion. This building may have been perfect back in 1955 or 1960, but we’re also talking 60, 70 years later; the community has grown, the police department has grown, but the building has not.”

Space – both for working officers and storage – will be the main thing addressed in the new facility.

Not only will there be ample working room for officers – including a separate officer’s lounge area and report-writing room – there will be extra interview rooms and a larger public area.

The public area is an imperative need, according to Blackwell, because the department exists to serve the public.

“We do serve the public; we have to make sure that we have an accommodating area for them,” he said.

Currently, the small lobby area is the only place officers can use to talk to people who might stop by needing something. This creates a security issue, both for the officers and for the public, as anyone else in the lobby will also hear any conversation happening.

Additionally, Blackwell said, the need for a public restroom is something small that will dramatically increase the safety of his department.

“In our current building we have no public restroom,” he said. “To some that may seem [a trivial need], but how many times have we opened our secure door to let someone come in to go to the restroom?”

Some other features of the new department will include a larger multi-function room that will serve as a training area for the officers. Blackwell said the room will be mainly a training space, but could also be transformed into an emergency operations center if needed.

Also included in the new facility will be several different interview rooms, including one in the public area.

“Right now we have one interview room in our facility, and it’s very small,” Blackwell said. “It’s not conducive to good interviews.”

The interview rooms will have enhanced features, such as soundproofing and camera systems – things, Blackwell said, “that just help make your interviews better.”

 

Room to grow

The station will also be constructed in a way that will allow for future expansion if it’s needed, Blackwell said.

“We’re looking at a 20-year plan,” he said. “Say, in 20 years we need an expansion – the foundation’s already there.”

With the foundation in place, any needed expansion or adjustments would potentially be easier to add.

“We’re definitely looking ahead,” Blackwell said.

 

Uphill climb

While there are a number of positives about the upcoming facility, Blackwell said there are a few things that could leave some heads scratching.

The primary limitation for the new facility is the size of the lot the city has to work with.

According to Blackwell, the donated land is only “about three-quarters of an acre,” which limits how the station can be built.

“Out of necessity, it’s going to have to be two stories,” he said. The lot is “just not large enough to do a single-level structure.”

The size of the lot, however, doesn’t diminish Blackwell’s gratitude to the Marcums for giving the land to the city.

“We’re very excited and thankful to the Marcums for donating the land,” he said.

Having a two-story building means the structure might also give up some interior space for stairs and an elevator, though Blackwell acknowledged the lot size demands “we go up versus out.”

Another issue is the slope of the land on which the station will be built. West Grundy Street and the lots on which the current police station and parking lot sit have “a pretty good slope,” meaning the construction of the station will require “some grading.”

Blackwell said some of the existing parking lot behind the police station will be integrated into the layout of the new building, so the architects and engineers are going to have to look at how to level the area in an optimal fashion.

The other potential setback for the new station are the continually rising construction costs. The area seems to be in the middle of a construction boom, Blackwell said, so the cost of doing business is climbing.

“Construction costs are rising,” he said. “Contractors are becoming harder and harder to get.”

 

Financing

Estimates for the project released in February put a $3.2 million price tag on the new station. The estimate includes funds for engineering, construction and “project contingency.”

The money for the project comes from a Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund loan that was approved by the board last October. The board signed off on borrowing $7.5 million for a number of projects, including the new animal shelter at public works, more sidewalks in town and the new station.

According to the project estimates, engineering costs are projected to be $238,875; $2,848,625 is set aside for construction; and the “project contingency” cushion of $162,000 is also included in the $3.2 million price.

 

Timeline

Blackwell estimated ground could be broken on the new facility by next spring or summer, though he said any number of factors could impact the actual construction start.

Once the construction begins, Blackwell said, project completion should take somewhere around nine months.

By this time next year, he said, the department might possibly be moved to the new facility.

While he has conservative estimates on the timeline, Blackwell said he wanted the city board to take a look at what he has planned for the new department.

“We want to get the board’s input on it,” he said. “They’re obviously the ones that are approving to fund it, so we want to make sure they get an opportunity to look at it and make comments.”

Having extra input on the project might also have the added benefit of pre-empting any changes that might come up during construction, which would raise the price through change orders.

“Let’s make sure we get it right,” Blackwell said, “because you don’t get a do-over.”

Blackwell said he plans to present the completed site plan to the board in its December meeting. The next meeting of the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 10.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.