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Alexandria pursues joint LEC: Total cost of city, county project estimated at $11.95 million

The process of building a city-county law enforcement center (LEC) next to a new Douglas County jail inched ahead Monday night.

After studying preliminary cost estimates, the Alexandria City Council voted 5-0 to proceed with "phase two" of the project - preparing the plans, drawings and specifications. The action is contingent on approval from the Douglas County Board.

The total cost of the project, based primarily on square footage at this point, is estimated at $11.95 million. The city's share would amount to $5,616,000; Douglas County would have to approve the rest.

City and county officials on a joint LEC task force have been meeting for several months reviewing architectural proposals and whittling down the square footage.

The costs were based on a 57,500 square-foot facility. It would include 6,272 square feet of shared space for an emergency operations center/training room with storage, a lobby area, interview rooms, restrooms, break room, a fitness/training room and more.

The city's portion of the LEC would include rooms for briefings, interviews, records, case management, evidence processing and storage, lockers, restrooms, conferences, training, parking garage and other needs. It would also include office space for 37 employees, 10 more than it has now.

Police Chief Rick Wyffels said the facility would meet the city's needs for at least 20 years and has room for expansion.

If the county does not agree to proceed with its part of the project, the city may have to build a stand-alone police department on its own, said Wyffels, who is a member of the LEC task force. "We've grossly outgrown our current facility," Wyffels said. "We have to do something."

The police department moved from city hall to the current LEC within the old Central Junior High School building 20 years ago, leasing the space from the county. The move was supposed to be a temporary 10-year fix but the police department "made do" with it for much longer, Wyffels said.

Council members expressed reluctance over the cost. "Chief, is this a good deal for us?" asked council member Cindy Bigger.

"That's a good question," Wyffels said. He added that although he didn't know how the cost would compare to the city building a police department facility on its own, he said he did know that the task force worked "very hard" on the joint LEC plan for a long time to come up with a reasonable, practical plan that reduced square footage as much as possible.

The total cost of the project includes fees, moving expenses, contingencies, furniture allowance and other costs.

How much would it cost taxpayers? City Administrator Jim Taddei broke down the costs, assuming the project moves ahead. Based on the city taking out a 20-year loan for the project at a 4 percent interest rate, the city would need to increase its levy 9.1 percent. Under the agreement with the county, however, the city would no longer have to pay about $200,000 a year for law enforcement dispatching. This would reduce the levy increase to roughly 4.7 percent, Taddei said.

Those numbers could change significantly depending on how bids would come in for the construction and financing - when and if the city and county agree to call for bids.

Park building bid awarded

A joint LEC wasn't the only building project on Monday's agenda.

The council accepted a low bid of $1,278,425 for a new park department building that will be located adjacent to the city's street department garage near Agnes Boulevard. The low bid, awarded to KUE Contractors Inc., of Watkins, came in about 15 percent less than the city's estimate of $1.5 million.

Plans call for a building 200-feet long and 100-feet wide.

The city's existing park department building along 3rd Avenue West is being demolished so the site can house the new law enforcement center next to the county jail. The demolition cost was not included in the bid or estimate of the project.

Based on a 20-year loan with a 4 percent interest rate, the project, with contingencies and other expenses, will cost the city about $103,410 per year, which would result in a tax levy increase of roughly 2.3 percent, according to Taddei.

The project is expected to start immediately and be completed by mid-January.

Council members were disappointed that no local companies were listed as subcontractors in KUE's bid. The city was told that several local companies were given the opportunity to bid for the work but they either declined or their bids were too high.

Mayor Dan Ness wanted to prevent out-of-town companies from putting up signs taking credit for the work on the park building. He thought the signs would fuel people's misconception that the city likes to hire out-of-town companies for local projects.

City Attorney John Lervick noted that Minnesota law clearly states that municipalities must award contracts to the lowest responsible bidder, no matter where they are from. Ness remarked that unfortunately, not enough people are aware of that fact.

Lervick said that it's probably too late to do anything about the signs #for this project because that wasn't included in the bid specifications. He said he would look into it, however. He added that in the future, the city could, as part of the bid, request companies to limit the number of signs they place on construction sites.

Bigger said she had no problems with the companies placing signs. "They got the bid - good for them," she said.