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The reality of Kerrville's public safety building is bigger, more expensive than planned

The needs for city's fire, police departments have changed, and there are some additional wrinkles.

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Fire Chief Eric Maloney and Police Chief Chris McCall listen to discussion about a new public safety building on Nov. 30, 2021.

If Kerrville wants a new public safety building, which could also house its information technology department, it's going to need something big — bigger than probably most anticipated.

Faced with the reality of differing needs from a 2019 feasibility study, a 10-person committee exploring the needs of the police department, fire administration and municipal courts met a challenging proposition — a building as big as 60,000 square feet.

On Tuesday, the committee met at the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library, joined remotely by architect Randall Scott, who also hit the committee with some regulatory issues that were somewhat unexpected and potentially costly.

For years, the city of Kerrville knew that its police headquarters, a repurposed bus depot, was woefully inadequate for the needs of the growing department. The 2019 study found that the city needed about 48,000 square feet, but new Kerrville Police Chief Chris McCall said there were plenty of gaps in that plan.

McCall said the previously proposed station would have underserved the department, boxing it into a position where growth would have been challenging. In addition, some of the shared uses between the three departments — police, fire and courts — are complicated by privacy laws that protect confidential information.

That's when Scott dropped a bomb on the head of the committee when he said that building codes now require first responders must have access to a hardened (or fortified) space built inside, yet structurally separate from the building, that allows them a place of refuge in an emergency. And, by the way, that safe room needs to have a bathroom, storage, IT infrastructure and a kitchen.

The previous study, confidentially delivered to the city in November 2019, placed the estimated construction costs at about $500 per square foot. And this is where things get tricky for the City Council, and three of them were there because they're facing a large and expensive project, just as Kerr County is looking to put at least two bonds on the November 2022 ballot.

"How did we miss this?" asked committee member Gary Cochrane, who served on the Kerrville City Council at the time of the initial study. Cochrane said he needs to see how much square footage it will take because he said he was having a hard time imagining a centrally located site with at least 3 acres.

"I've spent a lot of time looking at real estate," said Cochrane, who is a commercial real estate broker. "I'm not sure any of them are big enough. I'm not sure 3 acres is big enough."

The initial plan identified three locations, all on or adjacent to city property, but almost none of them fully served the needs asked by fire and police leaders at the time. There seemed to be a consensus that none of those locations now, including one on Paschel Street across from the Doyle School Community Center, are viable.

Another twist to the plan was the suggestion from city IT Director Charvy Tork that the city moves the IT department into the public safety building. Tork's rationale was simple — 75% of her department's responsibilities deal with public safety. Tork would continue to have to navigate troubleshooting from her current offices, which presents plenty of challenges.

In the end, John Harrison, the committee's chairman, asked for the architects to present two plans, including one with the IT department. However, it will be a week before the architects come up with a square footage estimate — and just how expensive this plan will be.


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