At $21 million, estimates for a new Medford police headquarters are nearly triple the cost of a similar, though smaller, project designed for the city in 2004, raising questions about the need for such a high-priced project.

At $21 million, estimates for a new Medford police headquarters are nearly triple the cost of a similar, though smaller, project designed for the city in 2004, raising questions about the need for such a high-priced project.

"Does it really need to cost this much?" said Gene Abell, who was retained by the city from 2004 to 2011 and was the architect for an earlier police station design.

Abell, of the Abell Architectural Group, questioned the need for a $6 million parking structure, which partially accounts for the cost increase in the current police station project.

In the earlier design, a secure parking area under the building, as well as surface parking, would have provided enough parking for a shift change, Abell said. Police officers could have parked their own cars at a nearby parking lot owned by the city, he said.

"Can we afford the extravagance of a multistory parking structure for the convenience of police officers?" Abell said. "I want to see a new police station as much as anyone, but how extravagant does it have to be?"

Councilor Daniel Bunn said the city conducted an extensive assessment and comparison with other cities before signing off on the size and cost of the police station. The city could have justified a larger building but struck the right balance between cost and the current and future needs of the police department, he said.

"It's so much better to do it right the first time," Bunn said. "It would have been embarrassing to the city if we built something that didn't have adequate space for our future needs."

Both the Abell design and the new design envisioned an earthquake-resistant building constructed on the same city-owned lot at the corner of 10th and Ivy streets.

Abell estimates his original design for a 30,000-square-foot police station would have cost $10.6 million in today's dollars. He said the size of the building could easily have been scaled up.

The current design calls for a 42,000-square-foot building.

Abell said the public was largely excluded from discussions over the new police station, and he doesn't think a good case has been made to explain the need for such an expensive project.

Under contract with the city until November 2011, Abell Architectural Group continued to provide updated construction costs in case the city wanted to push forward with building the police station.

When the city changed its city manager and police chief, Abell received a letter terminating his contract.

Abell acknowledges he was disappointed that his company was dropped by the city, particularly because he provided updates on construction estimates without charging any additional fees.

"We were blindsided by this," he said. "In our opinion, it was unprofessional and not a good thing to do."

In 2012, the city sent out a request for proposals to build a new police station. The city picked Mackenzie, a firm with locations in Portland, Vancouver, Wash., and Seattle, to design the station under a $37,900 contract. Mackenzie also conducted an analysis of fire station needs for $47,000.

Abell said he has provided various designs for Medford fire stations over the years, as well.

The city discussed putting the police station proposal before voters for a bond measure. However, the City Council in November voted to hike utility fees to pay for the 30-year bonds that will fund the new police headquarters and three new fire stations.

Abell said that such a major undertaking deserved considerably more input from the public, particularly because residents would be paying for the bonds for the next 30 years.

"We don't believe the community has had any vetting of this at all," he said.

City officials said they decided not to go before voters because of the worry that interest rates could shoot up on the 30-year bonds. The city estimated it would pay 4.75 percent interest on the bonds. On Thursday, the city got word that the interest rate it secured through Bank of America was 4.42 percent.

Medford police Chief Tim George said the space needs for the police station were part of an extensive study conducted by Mackenzie.

"We've done our research," he said. "This will serve the Medford Police Department for 25-years plus."

The Mackenzie study looked at four possible sites for the police department, and the results were scored by a committee based on standards set by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Bend, with a similar population to Medford, remodeled and expanded a police station in 2007 to 48,000 square feet. The Bend Police Department has 112 employees, of which 88 are sworn officers. Medford has 140 employees and 105 sworn officers.

"If anything, 42,000 square feet is on the low side," George said.

According to the Mackenzie study, Bend built its police station for $100 per square foot, while the Medford station — without counting the parking garage or other costs — would be $259 a square foot. Eugene, which built a 66,000-square-foot facility in 2012, paid $257 a square foot. In 2009, Roseburg paid $232 a square foot for a new police station.

George said he traveled around the state looking at other police facilities and doesn't believe this one is out of the ordinary.

He said the need for a 223-space, three-story parking garage was driven by limited parking and lack of a secure area for patrol cars.

"If you look at Ivy right now, we're hogging the whole street," he said.

Officers routinely load equipment and weapons into vehicles parked along the street next to City Hall, where the current 15,000-square-foot police station is located on the bottom floor.

George said officers will be able to park their own cars in the garage, then load up the patrol cars for their shifts.

"We've been in this temporary police station for 46-plus years," George said. "I can guarantee you that we will be in the new building for 40 or 50 years."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.