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Mold, asbestos plague aging police building

Bainbridge Island Police building on the corner of Winslow way and Highway 305 - Courtesy Photo
Bainbridge Island Police building on the corner of Winslow way and Highway 305
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

The Winslow Way police facility will get an $8,000 improvement to remove mold and asbestos, but greater needs such as more space and an improved location are another item on a long wish list for sparse city funds.

The repairs come as a result of a 2010 indoor environmental quality evaluation that revealed sewage contamination, water damage, mold growth, asbestos and other safety concerns in various parts of the walls and ceilings of the Bainbridge Island Police Department (BIPD) headquarters building at the corner of Winslow Way and State Route 305.

“This is stuff that nobody wants to breathe,” said Police Chief John Fehlman. “We have officers with asthma or other conditions. This air isn’t helping anyone stay healthy.”

Hazardous materials are just one of several complaints for the current facility, but the city is holding off any major investments until the completion of a comprehensive review of city assets. In the interim, city staff is improvising low-cost improvements, and reorganizing the small space to best fit the needs of the 21 officers and six administrative staff members housed in what was initially considered a temporary location.

The overall safety of the physical police station structure hasn’t been assessed, said Public Works Director Lance Newkirk.

“At this point we don’t have information on the safety of the building as a whole,” he said. “But the repairs in air quality are intended for the safety of the occupants and to continue to keep the building functional.”

Until the city determines its funding priorities through the long-range strategic planning process Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer is currently embarking on with the council, Newkirk says the facility won’t likely be reviewed for a facility needs assessment.

The 7,500-square-foot, two-story building was built in 1969 to house former fire station and Winslow’s City Hall, and was remodeled in 2000 to its current configuration. It is framed with poured concrete, cement masonry walls, and a flat roof.

In 2006, the city procured a joint study on BIPD and municipal court needs and determined a combined facility would be the most cost-effective route to find a permanent location. Those plans were finally scuttled because of the city’s financial limitations, and a municipal court lease extension was just signed for the court to stay for three years in the converted storage building in Rolling Bay.

The study cited numerous deficiencies, including a police location hampered by ferry traffic; tsunami concerns with a building less than a mile from the shoreline; and a facility not built to earthquake standards.

The city’s financial crisis will continue to delay any major investments in the foreseeable future.

“We are making small improvements until we are able to step back and look at the totality of the city’s portfolio and decide where to invest,” said Bauer. “The building was not designed as a police facility so it has a number of very critical shortcomings. But we need to understand what kind of revenue base we have and determine our top priorities before we start getting things done.”

Bauer said the city is working with the council to do an intensive assessment of assets, which could take another year, she estimates. The city owns more than $200 million in capital assets, and since much of the island’s infrastructure was constructed around or before the 1960s it is already in need of replacement or will soon, according to an April 20 city report.

The city will delay the other $50,000 worth of non-critical recommendations listed in the report, and came up with the $8,000 by transferring funds from the $145,000 roof replacement project that has been sidelined. The leaky roof was given an improved band-aid last year to keep the water out.

Inside the Winslow building, the department crams offices, evidence, storage facilities, two holding cells and various meeting rooms. Officers share desks, loose wires and cords litter unfinished storage spaces, and a tiny “soft room” meant to comfort victims serves as the only resting space for officers during a long shift.

There is no locker room, shower, or work-out facility unless officers use the fire department’s facilities.

Public works employees have fashioned make-shift solutions, but “it’s a mess,” said Fehlman.

The BIPD vehicles  go  home with officers, which allows them to be used as a mobile office and storage unit, Fehlman said. It’s also helpful since the building has no generator and officers need to work from their cars in a power outage.

“We have a bit of a storage crisis at headquarters, so if we took away the officers’ take-home cars, we wouldn’t be able to store what we have otherwise had officers keep in their cars,” said Fehlman.

The police fleet includes 28 cruisers and two marine units.

Police used to lease an off-site space from the fire department where some of the larger evidence was kept, but the Day Road facility was sold when it changed hands from the fire department to the school district for the new Wilkes Elementary site.

Efforts to spruce up the building such as interior and exterior painting, and outdoor landscaping have been accomplished with staff work parties.

“Some people ask why we  want to put lipstick on a pig,” said Felhman. “It’s because it’s our pig, and we work on this building because I want our officers to be able to take pride in our facility.”

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