The Seattle City Council is looking for ways to reduce the $160 million price tag for the new North Precinct that the city plans to build for the police department.
The Seattle City Council is looking for ways to cut back the $160 million price tag for the new North Precinct the city plans to build for the Police Department, with some council members saying the city has until now given the department a “blank check.”
Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Mike O’Brien on Wednesday said the sum is just too much to spend on the new complex at Aurora Avenue North and North 130th Street, which would replace the existing North Precinct at College Way North and North 103rd Street for officers north of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.
They discussed reductions in parking, training and community space as potential ways to save. And while acknowledging a new precinct is needed, they said the project’s budget should have been scrutinized sooner.
“I don’t question the need for something significant to be done for the North Precinct,” an angry O’Brien said during a meeting of González’s public-safety committee with officials from Mayor Ed Murray’s administration, including Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. “What I’m frustrated about is — that doesn’t lead to a kind of blank check to go ahead and just do whatever you want.”
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During the committee’s comment period, a dozen members of the public urged the council against prioritizing the construction of the new precinct, calling it a “bunker” for a police force undergoing court-ordered reforms related to excessive force and bias.
The city initially budgeted about $89 million for a smaller new North Precinct. That was the price tag listed in annual capital-improvement plans through last year. But this year’s plan, approved by O’Brien and the council last fall, nearly doubled the number to $160 million.
Why the huge increase? Back when the project was first budgeted, the council “had limited cooperation” from then-Mayor Mike McGinn in estimating how much it would cost, Murray spokesman Jeff Reading said in a statement Wednesday.
“Without a comprehensive team to establish a reasonable cost for a complex project like this, the $89 million budget … was intended to act as a place holder,” he said.
The existing budget sets aside $14 million for the property, $17 million for design, permitting and other “soft costs,” $105 million for construction, $23 in contingency dollars and $800,000 for public art. The plan includes a 331-stall parking garage meant to accommodate 134 police vehicles, 190 personal vehicles driven to work by staff, across all shifts, and 20 years of staffing growth.
Cutting the size of the garage by half would save the city about $4 million, according to a memo from the council’s central staff to González’s committee.
Eliminating the garage and replacing it with 142 stalls on a surface lot would save $17 million in construction dollars but would require the project to be delayed and redesigned, resulting in a net savings of only $5.5 million to $8 million, the memo says.
O’Brien called the situation frustrating, saying a pre-design decision to use a surface lot rather than a garage would have been more fiscally responsible.
“It’s maddening for me to look at this thing and think, ‘Great, this is an option that saves $17 million,’ but then be told, ‘Actually, it only saves about maybe $5.5 million to $8 million’ because we’ve gone so far down the path here,” the council member said.
Of 158 North Precinct staff who took part in a recent survey, 157 reported driving alone to work.
The plan for the new precinct includes a new training facility for officers, with a new firing range. Scrapping that would save nearly $3 million, according to the memo.
Getting rid of community space for meetings and other activities would trim about $8 million in construction dollars but net just over $1 million in savings, due to redesign and delay.
The total net savings from eliminating the garage, training facility and community space would be $9.5 million to $11 million.
Murray’s plan calls for construction to start in April 2017.
González distributed a draft resolution Wednesday that would cap the new precinct’s budget, require the city to perform a racial-equity analysis of the building’s design and operations, reduce or eliminate some aspects of the project and allow for construction to begin as late as April 2018.
O’Brien suggested possibly waiting even longer, until construction labor and materials are cheaper. “We will have another recession in Seattle,” he said.
If the city were to sell the property and walk away from the project, the estimated loss would be $4.5 million because some design work has already been paid for.