CLEARWATER — The city will pay up to $11.2 million to construct a new operations and training center for its police department.
That was the decision April 15 of the City Council, which voted 5-0 to approve a contract for Ajax Building Co. of Oldsmar to rebuild the District 3 Operations and Training Center at 2851 McMullen-Booth Road, which is across the street from Countryside High School.
The new facility will also be the city’s first building rated to withstand a Category 5 hurricane with wind of 157 mph or higher, meaning the public safety personnel will use it as its emergency operations center for future storms.
“The building being replaced was constructed in 1983 and is functionally obsolete, so the replacement will meet the department’s current operational and training needs, but also provide the department with a much-needed Cat-5 shelter for hurricane deployments, which we currently do not have,” Police Chief Dan Slaughter told council members.
Construction is scheduled to begin in May when Ajax will demolish the existing substation and is scheduled to be completed in August 2022.
Currently, the department’s District 3 Patrol Operations have been relocated to the vacant Countryside Branch Library on State Road 580.
The new facility, however, won’t include many elements in the original $16 million master plan, including upgrades to the department’s K9 training facility, which will remain on site during construction.
“We had to lose $4 million to where we are now today,” Slaughter said. “We have a K9 facility that … works, but it’s not a very adequate building. We scuttled that project to get to the funding constraints that we have. It was originally a two-story design and changed to a one-story design. We eliminated holding cells, we eliminated a carport.”
He said this latest proposal will meet the department’s current needs, but it isn’t one that will meet the agency’s needs moving forward.
“We removed some very critical things that are bare bones,” he said.
Maj. David Dalton told Tampa Bay Newspapers that the upgrades will help improve the ability and frequency of training for the department. Among the improvements will be a firearms simulations room where officers can practice different scenarios.
“It affords us a lot more flexibility to do training and improve the training our personnel get,” he said.
Solar panels and electric vehicle readiness were other victims of the budget and nature of the facility, said Ward Friszolowski, president of Harvard Jolly Architecture, which designed the project.
Council member Kathleen Beckman, the board’s most outspoken advocate for sustainability measures, said she was encouraged that the proposed facility would meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver building standards, but was concerned about the lack of solar panels.
Because of the critical nature of the facility, Friszolowski, who is also a longtime St. Pete Beach city commissioner, said placing equipment on the roof would require multiple penetrations that could create a potential leak in the future.
Instead, the design team recommended possibly placing solar panels on parking canopy covers or on the roof of the firing range.
That answer didn’t satisfy Beckman, who said municipalities across the world have solar on important structures and they’re not leaking.
It did satisfy other council members, however, including Vice Mayor Hoyt Hamilton, who said the city should take no chances with its EOC.
“This building needs to have absolutely the minimal amount of potential for any type of defect during an emergency operation, which is what it’s being built for,” he said.
This isn’t the only costly project ongoing at the substation.
In 2017, a $2 million renovation project included upgrades to the station’s firing range that’s been in place since the early 1980s. The range is used for all sworn personnel, recruit orientation, SWAT training, and other weapons-related training.
Unfortunately, some of those changes actually led to increased noise, which upset neighbors.
In February, the city agreed to spend roughly $820,000 on new acoustical panels that aim to muffle the sound of the live training.