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Council explores possible sites for new City Hall

City staff are shopping for potential sites in which to build a new City Hall facility that will house at least the police department and municipal court and possibly city offices.

The Federal Way City Council formally directed staff last week to move forward on a 2002 work plan with a more direct, active approach to a City Hall facility as part of its capital facilities plan.

The work program also includes transportation projects and parks improvements.

Councilmembers initially told staff at a city retreat, held Feb. 11 and 12 at the Dumas Bay Center, to look for three locations in each of three zones — the downtown core, the frame and the suburbs.

Last week, the council amended their orders to include an option for a campus scenario in which city offices would stay where they are. A new joint police department and municipal court building — the public safety facility for which a utility tax was passed in 1996 — would be built on adjacent property behind the existing building.

City Councilman Mike Hellickson has been a proponent of the campus scenario because it would limit construction to just a public safety facility.

“We don’t need a new city hall right now,” he said. “It’d be great, but especially in a time of economic downturn, it’s a bad idea.”

Other council members have said they like the idea of combining city services into one building, though they’re warming up to the campus idea.

Councilman Eric Faison was in favor of building a single city hall facility in the downtown core, but said he now is open to the idea of a facility located in suburb areas like East or West Campus.

“I am open to all ideas,” he said. “I just believe that whatever we do, we need to find a way to contribute to downtown.”

As for the campus scenario, he said he doesn’t care as long as the buildings are close together. He said he’s not opposed to leaving city offices where they are, but added that staff are working in increasingly cramped quarters.

“It’s not a matter of wanting a new city hall because we think it would be pretty,” he said.

Assistant Chief Brian Wilson said the only police concern for a new facility revolves around design — and having an expert in police facilities design involved in the project.

A facility separated from city offices by a breezeway or a campus-style facility would allow police to bring in and process resistant detainees without exposing them to the public.

Still, appropriate design could allow for detainees to enter through a door separate from a main public entrance in a single building.

Building a police facility requires special considerations, Wilson said. A good police facility usually ends up costing more than a regular office building because the materials and construction have to be stronger to safeguard police officers, staff and the public.

Driveways have to be easily accessible by police officers and there must be more than one to facilitate getting in and out of the facility.

The public entrance should be separate from the employee entrance, and all police offices, like criminal investigation rooms and evidence processing and storage areas, must be ventilated, alarmed and secured, Wilson said.

Drains and sprinkler heads must be carefully placed — belligerent detainees have been known to plug drains or take lighters to sprinklers in the holding cells.

Hallways in police facilities have to be slightly wider because of the bulky gear and side-holstered weapons police officers wear.

Regardless whether the public safety facility ends up being part of a single city hall building or a joint police and court building alone, police are looking forward to the prospect of more space.

“Once these things are addressed, either way, we’re excited,” Wilson said.

Federal Way’s police currently are spread out among several offices. Federal Way Municipal Court is in yet another office.

Patrol officers work from the main police office where members of the public can pick up reports or get finger prints made.

Detectives work from another office and the quartermaster’s office, where police equipment is stored, is housed in another building near the municipal court.

Combining the department into one building will improve communication and allow different sections to work together. That will help as the department continues to grow.

Six lateral entry officers are on their way into the department now.

The police department currently sits in about 22,900 square feet and employs about 145 people, according to a study conducted by the Seneca Group, a consulting firm the city hired to provide a cost analysis of the city hall project. City offices fill about 34,600 square feet, according to the group.

According to the Seneca Group’s study, the city will need about 44,000 square feet of office space and the police department will need about 26,600 square feet to provide adequate work space and meet projected growth estimates.

Building a new city hall facility is expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million, according to the Seneca Group and city estimates. The Seneca Group did not provide a cost estimate for a public safety facility only.

That has bothered Hellickson, who has said voters were promised the utility tax would sunset in 2003 and they would have a new public safety facility.

“We are supposed to be good stewards of taxpayer money, not building helter-skelter. Sometimes, you’ve gotta draw the line,” he said. “What we need today is a new police and court facility. Everything else is a want.”

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