The basis for selecting a new police facility|James C. Smith is Washington’s city manager. In this guest editorial, he explains the reasoning for selecting part of the former P.S. Jones High School site as a potential location for a new police station i

Published 3:23 pm Wednesday, September 2, 2009

By Staff
In 2007 when the Washington Police Department plotted its demand for services, it was statistically confirmed that the city needed to make a concerted effort to address needs in the Old Fort neighborhood.
Since that time, approximately $2.5 million has been invested or is in the process of being invested in the Old Fort neighborhood. The city obtained a Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $970,000 for housing revitalization and infrastructure improvements. The police department is investing $420,000 of Governor’s Crime Commission and U.S. Department of Justice funds in Project Next Step and focused community policing efforts. The city worked with a neighborhood committee to make over $200,000 worth of improvements to long-neglected Beebe Memorial Park. The city joined with the Washington Housing Authority which is investing $885,000 in defensible space, landscaping and new and rehabilitated housing in the neighborhood. Due to these efforts and investments, the most recent statistical analysis by the police department indicates a significant reduction in calls for service. Many residents have told April Corbett, Next Step Project manager, that they no longer fear allowing their children to play in their newly fenced yards. Yet, we know there is more to be done to allow residents to feel completely safe.
In 2007, the City Council identified a new police operations facility as its No. 1 capital priority. No funding source was identified at the time. When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed by the federal government, funds suddenly became available for “shovel-ready” projects. It appeared that if we moved quickly the city could take advantage of USDA, FEMA and Homeland Security funds to move forward with a police headquarters project. Contacts were made with each of the agencies and an RFP was issued for architectural consultants. The question then became where to build the new facility. A site is required before applications can be filed. Typical bases for selecting a site for a police facility include factors which contribute or subtract from the suitability of various sites and fatal conditions which eliminate sites.
Key contributing factors include such things as the following:
• Size of the parcel;
• Access;
• Presence of utilities;
• Flood elevation;
• Acquisition and site preparation cost.
Additional contributing factors include the following:
• Service centricity (which is the location in comparison to demand for services;
• Availability of the site (is it already in public ownership or will it have to be purchased or perhaps even condemned;
•Private development potentials for the site;
• Will a major investment in the location contribute positively to the neighborhood?
Fatal conditions include the following:
• Location in a flood way;
• Proximity to a blue line stream ;
• Environmental constraints.
Several sites were considered initially, notably, a portion of the Bobby Andrews Recreation Center area at the corner of Fifth and Bonner streets, baseball practice fields at Third and Plymouth streets and the old water-treatment plant site at Second and Plymouth streets. All sites were already in public ownership.
As a board member of the Beaufort County Boys &Girls Club, I observed that the large, vacant area north of the former P.S. Jones School was never used except for a once a year event by the club; it is otherwise gated and locked. The area was not needed for the Damien Wilkins event because there were three adjacent, little-used recreation areas including Beebe Memorial Park and areas west and south of P.S. Jones School.
After a brief review of all of the sites, the others were either located in a flood zone or were of inadequate size. The need to purchase and possibly condemn sites along commercial streets such as 15th Street or U.S. Highway 264 was not considered at the time, nor were other sites on the eastern side of the city. It is anticipated demand for police services is likely to grow on the west side of the city with commercial and multi-family development filling in the area between Washington and Greenville over time.
The John Small School site seemed an obvious location in that it was not in a flood zone, there were no known environmental constraints, this parcel contained over four acres, there was good access to the site, utilities were present and it did not take taxable, private property for public use. The site had little development potential other than a public use. It had service centricity in that it is located close to an area with high demand for service, and a $4 million to $5 million new investment in this neighborhood would increase the value of surrounding properties and bring perhaps 50 construction jobs. Initial contacts with the Boys &Girls Club board, immediate neighbors and school officials were very positive. Meetings with other interested parties indicated that they would like to see a children’s recreation area formalized on the site as part of the project.
A resolution was prepared for the Monday, Aug. 10, City Council meeting formally requesting the Beaufort County school district declare the parcel surplus so that soils and archaeological testing could begin. Representatives of Project Next Step had begun the formal process of surveying community members. The Boys &Girls Club was selected to hold a formal neighborhood meeting where we could show neighbors what a building would look like and how the children’s recreation area might be incorporated into the site. No one from the P.S. Jones Alumni Association contacted my office to express concern prior to the Aug. 10 meeting or to ask that action be delayed. Reportedly, petitions were circulated over the previous weekend with the misunderstanding that the city intended to build a “jail” on the site. The proposed police headquarters includes no jail.
Since the receipt of the petitions asking the city not to change the use of the P.S. Jones site, the city has begun a broader study of 14 potential sites for the new police facility, including 10 privately owned sites. Each will be evaluated on a weighted-factors basis and a new report will be brought to the City Council including recommendations from the architect