Seattle’s preparing to build what may be the most expensive police precinct house in America. It’s a shame the city doesn’t also have enough money to hire more police.
Seattle may be reaching a milestone in its perpetual quest to become a “world-class” city.
On a forlorn field of concrete in the North End, Seattle is preparing to build what looks to be America’s most expensive police precinct building.
The North Precinct Police Station will cost $160 million for a striking monument of steel, concrete and glass, soaring over the adjacent Comcast service center.
So what if Los Angeles has a precinct enrobed in undulating glass that sparkles like the sea? It only cost $31 million.
Seattle found inspiration for the North Precinct design in Salt Lake City, which opened a glorious, gallery-like police and fire headquarters in 2013.
Salt Lake City’s building also houses a data center, dispatch center and emergency-operations center, plus cutting-edge energy systems that pushed its price all the way to $125 million.
Times have changed since Seattle built its 13-story police headquarters and municipal courthouse back in 2002, for just $69.5 million. Not to mention the $20 million budget for the West Precinct built downtown in the late 1990s.
Design ambitions must be balanced with budget realities. Unless you’re working for the city of Seattle, which always finds money for showpiece projects.”
Since 9/11, police are building more resilient facilities. As cities emerged from the recession, they’ve also used new police buildings as an opportunity to assert their design savvy.
Don’t get me wrong. Cities and police deserve the best buildings they can afford. Excellent design is warranted for structures that reflect civic pride and last for generations. The North Precinct also must replace its current, obsolete building.
Still, design ambitions must be balanced with budget realities. Unless you’re working for the city of Seattle, which always finds money for showpiece projects.
City Councilmember Mike O’Brien has pushed for ever-larger housing and transportation levies, but he’s now wondering if Seattle is spending too much on the North Precinct.
“In a fiscally constrained environment, there needs to be some bounds around what we do,” he said, adding, “I don’t think every single building needs to be a potential landmark building.”
O’Brien said he’s looking into whether costs can be trimmed because the city has a list of other projects needing funds. And “good design isn’t always the most expensive.”
This scrutiny is refreshing but may be partly politics. O’Brien might run against Mayor Ed Murray, whose administration is overseeing the project. Otherwise, there are few opportunities to differentiate them as they’ve jointly pushed for mega-levies and “grand bargains” with developers.
Still unclear is whether Seattle can hire enough police to fill the new space.
In February, Murray proposed adding 200 officers, doubling his campaign promise of another 100. This would address a shortage that’s pushed some neighborhoods to hire private police.
Enlarging the force should be easy for a city that can afford a $160 million precinct. But Murray recently said the city’s too strapped to do the hiring without raising business taxes.
North End residents deserve first-class facilities. But they might prefer less architectural flair and more of the sidewalks and crosswalks they’ve been requesting for decades.
Building costs are high in Seattle, especially amid a commercial construction boom. But the precinct’s budget climb is remarkable. The city initially budgeted $88 million for a 60,000-square-foot precinct, including maximum construction costs of roughly $35 million.
Now, as the city finalizes plans and prepares to build in 2017, it’s planning a 106,082-square-foot precinct house with a 241,019-square-foot parking garage, both three stories, at North 130th Street and Aurora Avenue North.
The budget is now $160.2 million: $14.2 million for land and $145 million for the building, including $94 million for construction costs and fees.
Per square foot, it may not be as expensive as some other police buildings. Though I couldn’t find a precinct house that cost anywhere close to $160 million.
Welcome to the upper realm of cityhood, Seattle.