New public safety building is open, secure, green — and ready for the 'big one'
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It's something the Salt Lake City Police Department has been dreaming about since long before Chris Burbank became chief.
On July 19, after years of working through leaky roofs, power outages and frequent elevator breakdowns in a building that was literally becoming a safety hazard, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held for the city's new Public Safety Building that will be the home for the Salt Lake police and fire departments.
In 2009, Salt Lake voters approved a $125 million bond for construction of the new building. That effort came on the heels of a rejected bond proposal in 2007 for $192 million.
Since the bond was approved, Salt Lake Assistant Police Chief Tim Doubt has been at the construction site, on 300 East across from Library Square near 420 South, more than at his regular desk.
"I've been working on this for 3 ½ years, from design all the way through. I dream about it every night. I come here every morning. I leave here every night. Most of my days are spent here. It's really exciting being able to watch it come out of the ground and watch it finish. I'm really excited for our employees and the public to be able to see it," he said.
Public tours will begin July 20. Construction crews are in the process of putting in the final details of the new 174,000-square-foot building. The current Public Safety Building, at the corner of 200 South and 300 East, is about 91,000 square feet.
The new building is coming in on time and on budget, according to City Project Manager Chad Jones. But Jones also noted that the building has exceeded nearly everyone's design expectations.
Designers had two particular challenges: making the building earthquake-safe, and somehow finding a way to make it both secure and open to the public at the same time. Having a lot of public open space — similar to nearby Library Square and Washington Square — was a big priority for all involved.
"One of the things that I think I'm most proud of is the fact that (the building) reflects a little bit of my philosophy and style. It's a much more open police building than anything I've visited in the country," Burbank said.
"We can't do our work, we can't be effective if we close ourselves off from the community," Doubt said. "We're a part of the community and they're a part of us. So we want to share that interaction back and forth. That's why it's so open in here. We still have to have a little bit of security in here but we want it to be open. And really, the taxpayers bought this building, we want them to be able to come in here and enjoy this space."
The new, four-story building has no shortage of windows, making the building both energy-efficient and giving it a sense of being open. The public can walk into the plaza area and into the police department atrium to visit the new police museum and the front records desk without going through any checkpoints.
But that design doesn't mean the building will be lacking security. Getting bulletproof windows, for example, to meet the goal of openness vs. security was a difficult and expensive challenge.
"It's hard to keep people safe through windows," Doubt said. "But it was an expense that we were willing to pay in order to be open to the public — and to send that message that this is their building as well."
Burbank said what he didn't want to do was build a fortress, even in light of a recent shooting inside the lobby of the West Valley City Police Department. Salt Lake police could have built the most secure building in the city, he said, but it wouldn't be able to function well in terms of interacting with the community.
"Part of being in a free society is we expose ourselves to a little bit of risk. I think we are no more a focus than the grocery store, movie theater or anywhere else. I certainly don't want to shop everyday and go through a magnetometer to go to the grocery store," he said.
The abundance of natural light and solar panels also makes the new Public Safety Building one of the greenest in the city. It has a Net Zero energy level, meaning the building generates as much energy as it uses. There are very few areas in the new building that don't get some natural light.
And the building was designed to still be operational following a magnitude 7.5 earthquake.
"Not just standing, but dust themselves off and get right back to work," Jones said.
The advantages of the new building over the current facility are almost too many to mention, according to Doubt.
"Where do I begin? First of all, it's a lot more comfortable. It's not dangerous, it's not falling down around us. We don't have leaks and fires and things like that. But most of all, it's more functional."
The new building includes an Emergency Operations Center — a first for the department — as well as an improved and expanded emergency dispatch center. Detectives will now all on the same floor so they will be better able to compare and talk about cases face to face. Motorcycle officers have covered parking for the first time. Police K-9s have fully operational kennels where they can be left overnight if needed. The building has a fitness center for employees, a larger armory, more SWAT facilities and private rooms to interview suspects and witnesses.
"We're not putting people in closets for offices. We have actual desks to put our people in," said Doubt.
The new facility also has a separate entrance for sex offenders who need to register with the city every month.
"So they don't have to come in and interact with (other people). But also they don't have to be stigmatized by announcing at the front desk they're a sex offender. They can come in a little more discretely," Doubt said.
He is convinced the new building will make the Salt Lake Police Department a better department.
"This building is just another tool. It's a really expensive tool. Over the long run, it's really not if you look at how much you're going to get out of each employee. But it's another tool like a car or a gun or a Taser. But it's a tool to help us do our job better," he said.
The new department will have temporary 24-hour evidence storage space for all types of evidence, including proper storage of blood and other forensic materials. If the $192 million bond had passed, the department would have had space for a crime lab and evidence room. But officials now say spending millions of dollars to make a warehouse wasn't a good use of money, so they've opted to find a different building to house their evidence.
Burbank said Salt Lake City and West Valley City have entered into an agreement to operate a combined evidence room and laboratory facility. A location has not yet been selected and a time frame for moving the evidence room out of the old Public Safety Building has not been set.
After the public open house is over, Salt Lake police and fire personnel will start moving into their new building on Aug. 1. The move is expected to be a three-week process completed in different phases. Emergency dispatchers will be the last to move.
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