Many Fergus Falls residents got their first real glimpse of what could be the city’s next big building project on Monday, when the city sent out flyers in utility bills laying out the initial schematic for the proposed new law enforcement center.

The center, which would measure approximately 24,500 square feet, would be the new home to the Fergus Falls Police Department, located on Washington Avenue across from City Hall. The police department was displaced on short notice from its old location in the Otter Tail County courthouse last year due to environmental concerns and has since split its operations between three buildings in different parts of the city.

According to the city’s utility mailer, the total project would cost about $6.55 million, and the police department hopes to occupy the building by June of 2013.

The building would be a substantial upgrade for the police department. Police Chief Kile Bergren estimated that the police department currently operates in about 19,500 square feet of space right now, 8,500 of it garage space.

The police department has been working on a new building project from behind the scenes since 2005, when a commissioned space needs study recommended that the department find a building larger and more suited to its needs. And, Bergren said, its needs are many.

“We have no interview rooms, … our evidence processing and storage areas are very, very limited, our general office space is very limited to say the least, and we don’t have adequate locker space to serve our male and female staff,” Bergren said. He added that having three different locations is not conducive to effective communication or time management.

Bergren believes that the new center will meet the department’s current needs, better serve the community with a more comfortable and accessible downtown location, and provide for expanding department needs for the next 20 years. The building would also be constructed to facilitate additional expansion as needed.

“We talked (with the architect) about what the current needs of the police department were and we talked about the projected needs of the police department if the community was to grow,” said Bergren.

Though the project cost is estimated at over $6 million, some of that money has already been spent. The property for the proposed building has been purchased for $1.25 million, and some other design costs have also been taken care of. If the city council chooses to move forward with the plan, the project would be funded by bonding, which would be paid back over 20 years.

The mailer stated that current estimates put the property tax increase on a $125,000 home at $62, while a commercial business property valued at $500,000 would see an increase of $458.

Bergren said he knows that some people will find those numbers hard to swallow as the city moves forward on its new ice arena project, and as such it has been taking the project slow.

“There probably is going to be – and there should be – some public questioning of, ‘Does it have to be this big?’” he said.

It’s questioning he’s prepared to answer on March 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the city council chambers, when a public meeting on the project is scheduled. Though Bergren said the police department wants to be sensitive to the concerns of residents, he said that a project also needs to happen soon to keep the department functioning well.

Published in the Fergus Falls Journal.