The big tamale in the City's Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) is the "Public Safety Building" (PSB). $30 million bucks worth of big tamale. This is a facility that has been under consideration since I was first elected. The big idea then was to buy up some (most?) of the Georgetown South Shopping center and put a large police headquarters on the property. I didn't really know where this project currently stood so I emailed the Council and Mayor. Of the 2-3 replies that I received (only 2 from incumbents running for office) what was clearly communicated was that "no decision has been made and in fact we aren't sure if this will ever happen"……imagine my surprise when I was watching the Council meeting last night and they voted to buy a hunk of the Georgetown South shopping center for a "public purpose"…..sounds like we're a little further along than "no decision" to me…..
The PSB has looked different according to different plans but the general idea is that it would be a place where we consolidate all of our public safety administrative offices and maybe some operational space. Back in the day, the facility also included a firing range. With the advent of Elite shooting sports that may or may not be necessary but it has been part of the plan. It has also included a fire/rescue station at times in the past. Is consolidating all of these offices in a single place a good idea? I really don't know. There is so much that goes into this. The cost to build is high. Could we use the current Rescue Squad building for something else? The current state of the office market is cheap and the rent on the Fire department HQ space is quite modest. Would it be nice to have a shiny new administrative building? Sure….but I'm not sure it makes fiscal sense. Yes, we need a second fire/rescue station over in Wellington but a new admin HQ ?
There is no denying the police need more space. The department has continued to grow over the years as our population has expanded. The size of their building has not expanded to keep pace. Instead they have converted interior space to accommodate their staff. About the only thing that hasn't been "reconfigured" is the public conference room and lobby. The police department needs more space…but I think the police department's building is in the right place: right next to the largest concentration of schools and students in the city. And maybe in northern Virginia. I'm wild about the fact that the police are literally next door. I'm pretty sure I don't need to draw you a picture as to why I'm so taken with their proximity. In my mind, it makes a lot more sense to keep the current facility and expand it. If we need to buy adjacent property then let's do that.
Ten years ago, the idea was that the PSB would be built on the north side of the Georgetown South shopping plaza. I don't know that it was ever communicated to the public as such but the thinking in City Hall was that this might possibly be the impetus for a massive redevelopment of the GTS shopping plaza area. It appears that, in this vein, we are indeed converting part of a bustling, if not exactly attractive, commercial center into a public use….and taking it off the tax rolls. In any event, We didn't talk much about the PSB project over the ensuing years because the economy went south not too long after I was elected and the Council spent a lot of time trying to balance the operations budget and ultimately eliminated almost all CIP spending. The project now seems to be back and I think it is time for a more thorough airing of our options. I'm not interested in "well we had a public hearing on the CIP and nobody came forward." That's weak sauce and a cop out. Take a look at the process that the schools used when they were preparing to build the new Baldwin.
There is also this: I believe that the optics of building a huge police / admin facility immediately adjacent to our largest immigrant neighborhood sends the whole wrong signal. My friends on the Council can tut-tut all they want and insist that this isn't an issue but I'm not buying it. Think about a very large 2-3 story government building in that parking lot. How do you think the residents of GTS are going to receive that? The schools do huge outreach into these communities, the city does it through enforcement. I'm not sure this is the way to handle this. It continues the tendency of the City government to govern the city they want to have, not the one that is here. If we're to be successful, that has to end. Face it, diversity is our hallmark and these communities must be engaged if the city is to grow to our full potential. The sooner the government gets down with that and figures out a way to embrace it instead of holding it arms length like an inconvenient truth that nobody wants to recognize, the sooner things will get better in Manassas.