A board workshop meeting on December 8th with the stated goal of discussing renovation options for the current City Hall facility went off course as discussions revealed the majority of the Board of Aldermen do not support the proposed site for the new police station. This revelation puts in jeopardy a planned April 2021 bond issue to build a new police station, the preliminary plans for which were to be unveiled in a December 14th Community Public Open House.
City staff began the meeting by presenting options to reconfigure the space within the current City Hall facility to accommodate City staff once the police department moved into its proposed new site. The board was asked to provide guidance regarding the level of renovations to be scheduled in the site, as staff remained unclear regarding the timeline the Board envisions for either a City Hall renovation or move to a new facility.
The cost for the options provided range from $800,000 - $1.2 million to renovate the current City building, including the repurposing of space currently occupied by the police department. The Board generally agreed that renovations to the City Hall space be postponed until clarity is reached regarding the new police station and whether City Hall offices will remain in its current location, or a new location will be sought. A ten-year life span for the current building was generally agreed upon.
The option to set aside funding for such renovations over the next few budget years was proposed as an alternative to approaching citizens with a bond issue.
“We can start budgeting for that now. When the police building is built, if that comes, then you’re already two years into funding this (City Hall),” Alderman Bob Headley said.
The potential to open up the land currently occupied by the City Hall building for commercial development was once again raised, with the option to move city hall and the community center to the former Sni-A-Bar Farm property currently owned by the City.
This suggestion provoked the ire of Mayor Chuck Johnston, who asked, “How are we getting back to the farm? That has been voted down. The people said they wanted to maintain this land. I don’t know how we’re getting back to going back there.”
“I can tell you that if we’re voting in January to move the police department back there (behind the Community Center), if that’s going to go on the ballot. I can tell you today, I’m going to vote no for that. I don’t think the location is the right location,” Alderman Jayci Stratton said.
“I feel like whoever has pushed all of this through so quick to have all of these meetings in December and have the vote in January didn’t listen in the beginning. Because we said could it be feasible to get back there, and that is what we were hoping to find out. Not to say, here it is, put it on the ballot,” Stratton said.
“To me, our police station needs to be inviting. Back there, where are you going to see it?”, Alderman Rick Knox said.
“I figured the design team would come back and say ‘nah’ you’re landlocking yourself in. You’ll have issues coming in and out. They’re already talking about building a separate road for PD to come in and out on their own,” Knox said.
“If you put it back there, thirty years from now, the people sitting up here are going to be saying, ‘What were they thinking?’”
Several board members stated they believed the study was just to determine if the site behind the community center was even feasible for a police station, and that an actual plan to present to voters was not a part of what was approved.
The City’s bid notice from June 2021 states “After multiple workshops and a citizen survey, the Board has directed staff to solicit proposals from design firms for the feasibility, design and construction of a new police station on the former football field directly behind the pavilion which is city owned property.”
The discussion of what exactly board members expected from the feasibility study continued, with members reiterating that while it may be feasible, they do not support a police building being located at the proposed site behind the current community center building.
“Alright, so it’s feasible. We’ve got feasibility decided. So now we’re just changing completely because of what?,” Johnston said.
“It’s been no secret from me that I have not felt that location was a good location. That’s been my stance the whole time,” Stratton said.
“I honestly, to tell you the truth Mayor, I thought the designers would come back and say ‘what are you thinking’?”, Knox said.
“I’ve been quiet this whole time. I’m embarrassed the way this is going. What I hear is the aldermen saying they don’t want this. I hear that we don’t want it there. We’re all in agreement,” Alderman Darren Mills said.
“We were elected by the people to represent and that is what we need to do.”
“I don’t know why we wasted money on a feasibility study back there when you knew you didn’t want it back there,” Johnston said.
“Well, Mayor, we need to get it right,” Knox said.
“I understand that,” Johnston said.
“No, you don’t seem to,” Knox said. “We have all decided that we have checked that, but we don’t think it is the best for the City now or 50 years from now.”
Johnston once again pressed why the board voted to approve a feasibility study knowing they did not want the station located behind the community center.
Knox interjected, “To appease you, because we always voting against you. So we said alright, let’s let Chuck…”.
“So, you spend money on a feasibility study for something you don’t want,” Johnston interjected.
“We actually figured…they’d tell us ‘no’”, Knox said.
“Good reason to spend money on a study,” Johnston said.
A citizen’s study group, consisting of two representatives from each of the City’s three wards and one at-large member, has been working with architectural design firm Hoefer Welker in multiple meetings over the past month to develop plans for the new station. The group toured the current station with Grain Valley Police Chief James Beale, went on site visits to stations throughout the metro area, and met over several evenings to develop a plan in preparation for the planned December 14th open house event.
City Administrator Ken Murphy brought up the planned December 14th meeting, inquiring if the meeting should proceed given the current discussion.
“I think we cancel that meeting,” Johnston said.
“If you could relay (my gratitude) to this team of people. Because I greatly respect the amount of time and thought and consideration that they put into everything,” Stratton said. “I don’t want them to feel that their time is wasted, because I think their input is still valuable.”
Murphy said the work completed by the committee could still inform future planning for a police station, as the board does agree that the need for a new facility exists.
Reached for comment following the meeting, Mayor Johnston stated, “I’m extremely disappointed. If they were going to vote in a feasibility study and don’t like the way it turns out, why waste money on it? We originally voted that we wanted to see if it is feasible. The only reason to see if it is feasible is if we’re going to do it, not to appease me. The citizen survey we did said that the voters wanted us to try to use this land rather than waste the money elsewhere. Now we’re back to this same garbage again. I’m trying to do what the voters want and think. They’re elected by the voters. The voters said what they wanted to do. We spent a lot of money once they said they wanted to see what was feasible there. If they did that to appease me, that was not the right thing. Their reasoning was wrong,” Johnston said.
Knox reiterated his stance after the meeting, “I just don’t feel that it is the best location for the taxpayers money.”
Asked whether the planned December 14th community meeting to discuss the police station would proceed, City Administrator Ken Murphy stated, “TBD” (to be determined). “I’ll be making some phone calls tomorrow morning.”