Plans to move city offices delayed in Kent

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

The sounds of construction echo through the halls of the Kent Safety Administration complex as contractors renovate empty office space badly needed for the city's police department.

Nearby, employees in the offices of the city manager, law director, personnel and safety director go about their daily business as the last city officials to occupy the structure that was once Kent City Hall.

Eventually, the goal is to move those offices as part of a plan to unify government facilities and make the process of dealing with the city more user-friendly.

But those plans are on hold because city officials are prioritizing capital expenses, and when compared to things like road work and sidewalks, offices rank low on the list.

"I don't think there's a need on that list that can't be justified," said City Manager Lew Steinbrecher, referring to a long list of capital needs identified in the city. "It's just a matter of setting priorities."

Earlier this week, Steinbrecher told Kent City Council expenditures were growing faster than revenues, meaning the city would have to decide which projects to move forward with and which ones to put on hold.

The police department renovations are possible only because they are being funded through drug fines and forfeitures, and not city tax dollars.

Steinbrecher said city officials still like the idea of putting the community development department in the same building as the engineering to make it easier for residents and builders to obtain permits. The city also recognizes the need for more space in the fire department.

But he said it's not just a matter of moving one department. The departments occupying that space would have to move as well.

"Everything is interrelated to the other issues," he said. "There are a number of other things that would have to be done first."

The maze of buildings is the result of several half-finished plans to move city offices that began in 1992, when the city purchased an old Sparkle grocery store and the medical building, both at DePeyster and Summit streets, from the Ferrara family for $1.3 million. The grocery store was renovated at a cost of $656,000, and some of the medical offices also were remodeled.

Plans at the time called for a council chambers to be constructed, linking the two buildings, and for all city offices to be moved from the safety building so it could be used exclusively for the police department.

But council never approved that phase of the project, Steinbrecher said, and it is no longer envisioned as a goal because of cost issues. The move of other offices also is on hold, at least this year.

Only three facility-related goals are being considered _ the police department renovation, which is expected to be done within two months, parking lot construction at City Hall, and the possible renovation of space in the Medical Arts Building for tenants.

The police department renovation will cost about $38,000, and is being funded through a federal law enforcement trust fund. The fund is one of several which funnels money from fines and forfeitures back to the city, said Kent Police Chief James Peach. Such funds must be used for specific purposes outlined by the state or federal government for purposes other than every day police operations.

The project will add a second locker room for female officers, something the department lacks, and will create a new roll call room, an area for officers to write reports, and supervisor's office.

The existing supervisor's office will be used as a headquarters and storage area for the department's bicycle patrol, and the area now serving as a combination roll call, report writing and training room will be used as a room where the public may talk to officers and view police reports.

Some furniture for the new offices was purchased two years ago and is still in storage. Other equipment will need to be purchased through law enforcement trust funds.

But without those funds, the police department would have to live with the same cramped conditions it has endured for years, Safety Director William Lillich said.

"Those improvements would not have been done otherwise," he said.

A parking lot, the last item on site plans for the city hall renovation which remains undone, is also expected to be built this year. The city moved three houses from behind city hall to the corner of Summit and Vine streets for that purpose.

The parking lot, which will replace a non-conforming lot along DePeyster and Summit streets, will have to be done by October, when the five-year deadline to build the parking lot runs out. The cost of the lot is estimated at between $150,000 and $175,000, which includes paving, grading and landscaping.

Officials also are considering a proposal by Dr. Joseph Occhino, who rents upstairs space in the medical arts building and has suggested taking over much of the remaining space in the upper part of the building. He also is considering other options, including constructing a building elsewhere.

Service Director Dennis Missimi said the space was previously used for Dr. Emilio Ferrara's practice and is unsuitable for anything other than an oral surgeon because it contains several small cubicles once used for recovery rooms.

It would cost up to $177,000 to renovate the building to meet Occhino's needs, which includes gutting the structure and putting in additional water lines and wiring. The city also could opt to renovate the building for general office space, which could range from $70,000 to $150,000, depending on whether part of the walls were retained.

Council urged Missimi to see if Occhino would be willing to make the repairs himself in exchange for lower rent. Missimi said he has not yet reached Occhino to find out if such an arrangement was acceptable.

Steinbrecher said the city is working to plan ahead and see what ways money can be saved to avert a financial crisis down the road. The city charter requires 25 percent of the city budget to be set aside for capital projects.

"Ultimately, it's council's decision where to allocate the dollars," he said.

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