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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Salt Lake Police's Andros bomb robot digs up dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City Wednesday, June 1, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — A few dozen police officers and firefighters joined Mayor Ralph Becker and other city leaders in turning over shovels full of dirt Wednesday, marking the start of construction of a new public safety building.

A police dog also joined in on the fun, digging for a planted hemp toy at the construction site at 300 East and 500 South. Another officer used a remote control to help a police robot fitted with a shovel mimic its human counterparts.

"It's very exciting to see the progress that's happening," said Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank. "It represents a milestone, not only for the police department but for Salt Lake City as a whole."

The $125 million public safety building will house the capital city's police and fire departments, as well as an emergency operations center. Construction is expected to be completed in May 2013.

"It can't happen fast enough for the police or the fire department," Burbank said.

The new earthquake-proof, energy-efficient building will replace the 50-year-old public safety headquarters at 315 E. 200 South that officials have called "dilapidated" and even "unsafe."

"Our existing public safety building is not functioning well," Becker said. "It does not serve the residents and businesses and needs of Salt Lake City."

Salt Lake City voters in 2009 overwhelmingly approved a bond measure for construction of the building. That bond was a slimmed-down version of the $192 million public safety bond in 2007 that failed by fewer than 300 votes.

"The public support for this has been significant," Burbank said. "That really made the difference."

City officials say the new public safety building will meet at least a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver rating. It's also being touted as the first public safety building in the United States that will have a "net zero" energy balance, meaning it will generate as much energy as it uses.

Energy-saving measures planned for the building include 30,000 feet of solar panels.

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