I-Team: New Raleigh public safety center could still be costly

Unlike the previous effort, this is a much scaled down version.
November 20, 2013 3:41:13 PM PST
The ABC11 I-Team has uncovered new scrutiny as Raleigh prepares to build a new public safety center. It's the same push back that forced the city to scrap the project four years ago.

Unlike the previous effort, which would have put police, fire, and emergency operations in the same building, this is scaled down version.

It's not the grand vision, but it is politically doable, and, according to city officials, it is needed. What critics want to know is whether the final price tag is justified.

The proposed 17 story, $200 million public safety center would have been called Lightner Center

"The Lightner Center, we felt like it would have been good to have everyone in the same place, all downtown," said Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

McFarlane was once a supporter of the Lightner Center -- a lavish facility for police and fire headquarters, and emergency services.

Plans for the building collapsed under their own weight about three and a half years ago leaving the city's first responders in limbo.

"When progress on that building stopped, we really had to step back and assess and ask, 'What do we really need,'" said McFarlane.

Police and fire would have to wait.

Assistant City Manager Dan Howe says priority went to emergency operations and the city's 911 center.

"The facility they've been working in was inadequate 10 years ago and we've continued to cobble things together and patch things up and they've expanded into closets and storage rooms," said Howe.

In the next couple years, they'll expand into a new public safety facility to be built off Capital Boulevard, just north of Interstate 440.

Over the last two years, the city has spent about $2.5 million on the project in what's called the early design phase. Tuesday night, city council authorized another $3 million to be spent before work even begins.  When it's all said and done, the city will have spent almost $70 million to get its new public safety building.

Some critics wonder if all that money is being spent wisely. The budget includes almost $200,000 for public art in a building not intended for the public.

"I sincerely doubt we need to be spending what will be hundreds of thousands of dollars for public art for this building," said Raleigh watchdog Joey Stansbury.

"The amount of money that we spend on art for any given city project is very small," said Howe, "but the quality and the bang for your buck you get for that very small investment, often is very huge.

Even if the artwork stays, the new public safety center will be a far cry from what was promised four years ago, but perhaps a welcome change for the nearly 200 people who will work there.

Unlike the Lightner Center, the new building won't mean a tax increase, but it also may not be the end of spending because the police and fire departments also need somewhere to go.

This could be just the beginning -- the first piece in a piecemeal approach to getting all the city's first responders into 21st century digs.

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