The basement floors of the Omaha Police Department's headquarters are piled with rubble. Workers wheel barrels of crumbled concrete and rebar to a waiting Dumpster for recycling on a daily basis.
This is part of a $1.4 million plan to overhaul an entire floor to better suit the department's needs.
Despite questions about whether the aging headquarters should be replaced, the building at 15th and Howard Streets is likely here to stay. For now.
Structurally, the building is sound. It is large enough for the department's needs. But the department is not using all of the space effectively.
“There's nothing wrong with this building,” said Capt. Adam Kyle, whose duties include planning for the department's facilities. “There's asbestos in it, but structurally there's no need for this building to come down because it's falling or the foundation is giving. And it's a great location.”
So for now, the department will update what it has.
The basement's old gun range has been replaced with state-of-the-art evidence storage equipment. An officers' fitness center, its workout equipment funded by private donations, will replace old holding cells.
New property and evidence work areas, a break room and server storage space also are being built. Construction of much-needed locker room space and an expansion of the crime lab should be completed over the next several months.
Outside, efforts to build new parking and other improvements around the building's perimeter are nearly finished.
Long-term plans for the building's future were examined in three studies conducted within the past four years.
One study concluded that the building should remain in use, although it acknowledged that asbestos problems could force closing Central Police Headquarters at any time.
In 2011, a city-county study provided four options for a new police headquarters. Three suggestions would keep the building at its present location, renovate it and build a new structure adjacent to it. The fourth proposed constructing a new building at an unspecified location.
In 2009, a study examined seven potential options for the headquarters' future — all but one included renovating the existing building in some form. The study said constructing a new headquarters, while preparing the existing building for disposal or sale, would cost an estimated $37 million to $44 million.
“This is where we live, this is where we operate and do all of our business out of,” Kyle said. “No one has offered us a ... $60 million brand-new spanking building across the way. It ain't going to happen.”
Kyle added: “Until that happens, in the meantime, we're not just going to sit here and operate the way we are in the conditions that we're in.”
Other options presented by the 2009 study include constructing a new parking garage with office space on the building's south side. That new construction, along with overhauling the existing building, could cost from $29 million to $39 million.
The department's parking problems won't be entirely solved by the new construction on the building's perimeter, Kyle said. It's possible a separate office and parking structure could be built for $15 million, he said. In the meantime, the department is working with what it has.
“We wouldn't turn down a new building, and we're not against a new building,” Kyle said. “But until that happens, we're going to work with what we have and make the best possible scenario for everybody.”
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