Lower those sights

Medford needs a new police station, but not necessarily what has been proposed

If Medford city leaders learned anything from the defeat of the swimming pool levy last year, they will significantly scale back plans for a new police headquarters before asking voters to pay for it.

The Police Department presented a study to the City Council last week that called for a $20 million project, $8 million more than earlier estimates.

The study by a Portland design firm was intended to meet the department's needs for the next 20 years. The council asked for more information after the department proposed a $12 million project last year.

Council members wanted the additional input to help them make the case for a ballot measure to fund the new station. Instead, they got a gold-plated proposal that sets them up for charges of excessive spending.

The new plans call for a 42,000-square-foot, three-story building, plus a secured parking structure with room for 233 vehicles.

That compares with the department's present quarters in City Hall, which occupy 15,000 square feet, and on-street parking for police cars.

No one would argue that the existing situation is acceptable. The City Hall headquarters, originally intended to be temporary when the building opened in 1967, is far too cramped for effective police work.

Chief Tim George says City Hall was never designed to be a police station. He's absolutely right. But it's a long, long way from 15,000 square feet and on-street parking to 42,000 square feet and a three-level secure parking structure.

The department is managing to do its job from its present location, no matter how inadequate it may be. And parking police cars on the street doesn't seem to have caused any serious problems so far.

Professional design firms are good at presenting visions of glittering new facilities, but just because a consultant says the city needs a three-story, 42,000-square-foot police headquarters doesn't mean the city has to build it.

It would be great to provide the department with a state-of-the-art facility. But given the mood of voters and the still-sluggish economy, it's a stretch to think city residents will be willing to spring for a $20 million police station when they wouldn't go for a $14.5 million levy for two swimming pools.

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