Council hears options for police department, municipal building

The city council voted on the tax rate at a public hearing Wednesday, April 26. File photo by T. Carter Ross

BY KRISSI HUMBARD — Hyattsville City Council will have some big — and expensive — decisions to make regarding future building projects. And there’s pressure to make those decisions soon.

At the Feb. 15 city council work session, city staff presented a range of options for relocation of the city’s police department and the renovation or relocation of the administrative offices.

“What we think we’re presenting [to the council] are the most viable options for decision-making, relative to what’s available today,” said Jim Chandler, assistant city administrator. “An investment decision needs to be made in one of these directions in a fairly short window.”

City staff presented four options, with possible combinations: The former BB&T bank building at 3505 Hamilton Street, the current city municipal building at 4310 Gallatin Street, the county services building at 5012 Rhode Island Avenue, or new construction at Centennial Park.

“The starting point for the discussion is the police department,” Chandler said.

The police department is currently located on the second floor of the city municipal building. But space is tight, and the location is not ideal for officer response. The city has long looked at moving the police department to the former BB&T building.

In 2016, the council learned that renovations of 3505 Hamilton Street would cost millions more than previously expected. Changes in scope of the renovations, as well as changes in the market for labor and materials, account for the increases in cost.

Chandler and Department of Public Works Director Lesley Riddle said the original study in 2011 focused on a “one for one” renovation, meaning the cost for replacing the carpet with new carpet or replacing a window with a new window. That study did not estimate the cost of renovating a building that was used for offices and banking into a specialized police station.

The estimated current cost for renovating 3505 Hamilton Street is $7.8 million. This price tag would include remodeling the building to comply with national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) standards like having a sally port or transfer point, secured parking, private interview rooms and evidence processing and storage. This location would also be more centralized in the city with easy access to major streets. And it would serve as an anchor, or “presence,” in West Hyattsville, Chandler said.

The other option for the police station would be to rent a portion of the vacant county services building. This option could be paired with moving the city’s administrative offices and public meeting space to the vacant county services building, as well.

The space at the county services building is 71,000 square feet, which Chandler said would likely be too large even with the police department and administrative offices moving in. This would leave space for the possibility of another tenant.

The building off Route 1 “does need substantial renovations,” Chandler said.

Necessary renovations would include making the building Americans With Disabilities Act compliant, updating the elevators, making mechanical upgrades and conducting interior demolition.

To move city hall to the county services building would cost an estimated $8.8 million in renovations, not including rent. The cost to move both the city services and police department would be an estimated $15.4 million.

Councilman Bart Lawrence (Ward 1) questioned why the city would have to pay for the renovation of a county building and wondered if the county would share in the cost at all. “It seems like a pretty bad deal,” Lawrence said.

Chandler said that another way to look at it would be that the city would not pay any upfront costs but the cost would be built into the lease. “Either way, you’re still having to pay,” Chandler said. He added that the current proposed rent is below market price.

Other options for the city if the police station is moved to 3505 Hamilton Street include partially renovating the city building — specifically the second floor where the police will have vacated, doing a full renovation, or demolishing the current building and rebuilding on the same site. Any renovation of the city’s current building would be dependent on the police moving out.

“There are a variety of mechanical pieces that are necessary to improve if we want to stay here [at the municipal building], so there are costs,” Chandler said.

Jim Burkhart, of JMT, the company hired to survey 3505 Hamilton Street and the city office options, noted that the current municipal building is 27 years old and nearing the end of its building life. He also explained that many of the mechanical systems are past their current life expectancy.

In addition to its mechanical issues, the building’s current lack of a first-floor presence has been problematic, Chandler noted. He also said that there currently aren’t “right-size” spaces for the city’s services and events.

The cost to renovate just the second floor is estimated at $5.2 million; renovating the whole building would cost $7.4 million. These amounts do not include the cost to rent a temporary home for the city offices while the building is renovated.

Demolishing the building is estimated at $800,000, which doesn’t include additional costs to rent temporary space and build a new facility.

The city’s final option would be to build a new location for city hall at city-owned Centennial Park, where Route 1 meets Baltimore Avenue.

This option could be done in tandem with the renovation of 3505 Hamilton Street, but would potentially leave the city paying for two large projects at the same time while also completing the renovation to the Department of Public Works facility and other smaller projects like the potential parking garage off Route 1.

The cost for construction of a new building is estimated at $7.5 million, which is roughly the same cost as renovating the current building. But a new facility would give the city a clean slate to plan the building the way they want, Chandler said.

“It would be a fresh sheet of paper,” Burkhart added.

These cited costs are all estimates and include the cost of design, construction, furniture and possible temporary relocation.

“There are some costs we don’t know currently, others are estimated based on rough industry averages,” said Hal Metzler, the city’s project manager. “The cost is going to go up between the time they make a decision and the time the building is built because … prices are going to go up, interest rates are going to go up, insurance — everything is going to go up.”

Following the presentation, councilmembers had a few questions.

Councilmember Shani Warner (Ward 2) said she was hoping for a “magical answer” for the costs of 3505 Hamilton Street, adding that after hearing the presentation, moving the police there seemed to be “an easy choice.”

“My real question is — how can we afford this?” Warner wondered.

Several councilmembers echoed Warner’s concerns about cost, especially considering the city’s current capital projects.

City Treasurer Ron Brooks had an answer: The city would issue bonds, which would provide proceeds. He added that he believes the city can take on additional debt exposure totalling $17 million. The current comfort level would add $14.8 million in bonded debt, with $2.2 million in cash reserves.

“This is what I believe the city can afford,” Brooks said.

What are the next steps?

Mayor Candace Hollingsworth said, “The goal would be to chart a path and execute a decision before May 2.”