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Turlock weighs new public safety building

TURLOCK -- The City Council on Tuesday night blessed plans for a $35 million public safety building next to the Carnegie Arts Center and a $1.8 million interim evidence building to fill the gap.

"This is one of the largest projects Turlock has undertaken in quite some time," said Police Chief Gary Hampton.

Rancho Cucamonga-based WLC Architects drafted a space-needs study for the Police Department after concerns over the evidence room, which -- among a list of problems -- force police to process evidence on a public sidewalk with their backs to the street. The firm uncovered a host of issues -- compounded by the department's growing staff -- with the two police buildings on the Palm Street campus.

Three options were presented to the council:

Modernize the two old buildings -- built in 1961 and 1964 -- and fill in the lot with more single-story work space, for $39 million.

Build a three-story bridge building on the campus and use the two standing buildings for ancillary services, such as an evidence room, at a cost of $35 million.

Build a new station for $35 million.

"We're struggling, and the struggling is going to get worse," Hampton said. "We're handicapped -- I don't want to use the word handicapped -- we're hindered, by the lack of available space."

The evidence room is in such dire straits, Hampton said, he asked the council to consider a declaration of emergency, which allows the city to bypass the normal bidding process "to speed things up."

"I'm constitutionally averse to speeding things up," said City Attorney Dick Burton. "My experience is when government rushes, it screws things up."

Mayor John Lazar, Vice Mayor Kurt Vander Weide and Councilmen Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher liked the idea of a new building on a site owned by the city -- the old Smith Chevrolet site, right next door to the Carnegie Arts Center. They also agreed a temporary portable building -- like a classroom portable with a high security fence -- was needed on the Palm Street campus until the new building is complete. Councilwoman Beverly Hatcher was not present.

From a black-box theater to a new south county library, ideas have been brewing for years over what to do with the old car dealership lot next to the arts center. The idea of a police station, though, came as a surprise to Claudia Silva-Doo, chairman of the Turlock City Arts Commission.

"It's not one of the uses that have been discussed, but ... police services would be wonderful," she said Tuesday night.

Rough plans from the arts commission call for the purchase of a handful of businesses and single-family homes on the block and closing off Lexington Avenue. It also could solve the parking problem arts commissioners have been batting around for months. The city is working to rebuild the arts center after a 2005 fire gutted the historic building.

City staff is working on a funding plan for the $35 million project, which council members should weigh in on next month.

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.

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