Safety center price causing controversy

December 22, 2009 9:00:46 PM PST
Most agree that Raleigh's police and fire departments need more space and more modern facilities, and the city is working on a state of the art public safety building with a $205m price tag.

The design for the 17-story Clarence Lightner Public Safety Center is impressive, but digging into the blueprints, some wonder if it's a little too impressive.

First-term City Councilor Bonner Gaylord says it's too much.

"It may be designed to a standard that we may not need to reach," he said.

The standards are built in, because it's a safety center.

The building would include blast protection and ballistic glass. It would be resistant to progressive collapse. And it would be built to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.

Gaylord says some of that may be necessary, but with a price tag that would likely require a property tax increase, he says the city should consider other options.

"To the point where it's resisting military grade hardware, I'm not really sure if that's what we need to have designed in our city," Gaylord said.

But for Councilor Russ Stephenson, protection from military attack is a bonus - he's more worried about Mother Nature.

"We really have to have a building that can withstand something like the Hurricane Fran of 1996," he said. "A 2x4, hurled at the speed with the force of hurricane winds can really blast right through a typical wall. That's why it's so important from my perspective to build a building that can resist that kind of hurricane forces."

The whole project is just a vote away from happening. If the city council votes yes, the current police headquarters will be torn down to make room for the Lightner building.

That vote is set for Jan. 5, which both Stephenson and Gaylord say may be too soon.

Stephenson says he's looking for a way to defer that property tax increase to put it off until a brighter economic day.

Gaylord says he wants more information about Hurricane Fran and the realistic dangers of hurricanes in Raleigh.

Meanwhile, advocates of going forward with the Lightner Center say now is the time, because of the recession, it may never be cheaper to build.

Opponents say for that very reason now is the worst time to raise people's taxes.

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