Police, fire eye shared facility

The Bainbridge Island Police Department is quartered in a cramped and outmoded facility originally designed as an all-purpose government headquarters for the tiny city of Winslow.

Someday, the all-island police department is going to need a larger, updated facility.

The Bainbridge Island Fire Department’s headquarters station on Madison Avenue has run out of room, and the department had been planning a major remodel of that facility in two years.

The city’s Municipal Court is located in leased office space on Valley Road in Rolling Bay, far from any other government facility, simply because the building was available when the court outgrew the old city hall.

Rather than continuing to plan and remodel individually, those agencies should seriously study the possibility of a joint-use facility, interim Police Chief Matt Haney says.

“Rather than renovate, I would like to see us look at combining the police, fire and court facilities,” Haney said. “I’ve seen it work in other places, where the agencies share resources.

“And it’s less confusing for the citizens,” he said. “I’ve seen people going into City Hall looking for the police department, and come in here looking for the court.”

Haney is proposing that the city form a citizen committee to study the possibility, and make a report by the middle of 2004.

“This shouldn’t be a police department idea, but should come from the community,” he said. “If the citizens don’t think it’s a good idea, then we will accept that decision.”

The preferred site for a joint facility or a public-safety “campus,” Haney believes, would be adjacent to the Madison Avenue fire station.

“It makes sense to be close to the center of Winslow,” he said, “but we don’t need to have a water view,” a reference to the present location overlooking Eagle Harbor.

Administrator Lee Walton likes the idea.

“It’s a real possibility, and I’m glad it’s coming up as an alternative,” Walton said. “It’s a good location, very central, and maybe a way to make optimum use of the property that government agencies already own.”

Idea not new

The idea of ultimately siting the police station and court facility in close proximity to each other is hardly new.

The city began several years ago to look at possible sites, and ultimately bought a 15-acre parcel of the southeast corner of New Brooklyn and Sportsman Club roads for that purpose for $500,000.

“Our first choice at the time was to buy property adjacent to the Madison Avenue fire station,” said City Councilman Norm Wooldridge, who chaired the siting effort.

“The owner of that property said he wasn’t willing to sell at the time,” Wooldridge said, “but he may be more interested now. If he is willing to sell at a reasonable price, I think it would be a great idea.”

Wooldridge said the committee was looking at a minimum of 2.5 acres for a police-court facility, so the property it purchased previously was far more than needed.

Fire Chief Jim Walkowski is also keen on the idea – so much so that the fire department has taken the Madison fire station remodel out of its capital facilities budget, and has instead redirected some of that money into investigating a shared facility.

“We are out of space,” he said. “If we had a joint facility, we could move the administrative folks out of Madison.

“Central Kitsap has a joint administrative facility and repair garage for fire, law enforcement and the schools, and it has been very successful.”

Walkowski said the owner of the adjacent property has told him that it might be for sale. But if it is not, or not affordable, Walkowski would like to see fire department administration integrated into whatever is ultimately built for police and courts at the Sportsman Club parcel.

Bainbridge Municipal Court administrator Telma Hauth is equally supportive.

“When we have security problems, we have to call an officer from downtown,” Hauth said. “And when an officer needs to testify, they have to come up here and wait until they are on. If the police station was close by, they could be in their office doing reports until we call and say we’re ready, and then go about their business.”

Close proximity would also benefit the city prosecutor, who currently has an office in the police station.

“The police department has some of the reports, and when the prosecutor comes up here, he has to bring all that by car,” Hauth said. “It would be much easier if the prosecutor could just go up or down stairs.”

Haney said the present facility can create security risks.

“We have no way to drive a prisoner into a secure area,” he said. “We have to take them out of the car, then walk them to the back door, and hope they won’t try to run down the street.”

That is a genuine concern, Haney said, even though Bainbridge has very little violent crime.

“Nationally, more officers are killed during misdemeanor arrests than felony arrests,” he said. “People may be arrested for driving with a suspended license, but they’re still unhappy.

“And while the island is a pretty peaceful place, most of the people we arrest are not from the island.”

A joint facility could provide training areas and facilities, something the police department presently lacks, he said.

“We have to borrow the fire department training areas now,” he said.

If a joint facility were built on Madison, the city would have two desirable pieces of surplus property – the 15 acres on New Brooklyn and Sportsman Club, and the corner parcel at Winslow Way/Olympic Drive where the police department is presently located.

“My recommendation for the big parcel would be to sell it, giving the school district the first crack at it,” Wooldridge said. “But there would have to be a sale – we don’t have enough money to buy the property by the fire station and keep or give away the other.”

The current police station property, he said, has been mentioned as a possible site for a parking garage, “although that would create aesthetic issues in the island’s gateway area.”

Another possibility is an office building. And, Wooldridge said, the ferry system itself has been eyeing the property to improve ferry terminal access.

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