After six years of rebuilding a town ripped apart by a fertilizer explosion, the city of West has one more major renewal project in its sights: a new home for the West Police Department.
Plans to build a new police headquarters are under consideration for the 2019-20 city budget, and Mayor Tommy Muska said the upgrade is overdue as the city of 3,000 rebuilds its population after the 2013 explosion at West Fertilizer Company.
“In six years time, we went through a whole gamut of movement, and we worried right after the explosion that people were going to move to China Spring, where they have a great school district and keep going on,” Muska said. “They wanted to come back here and we wanted to make sure they are taken care of back here, because the majority of them have home back.”
West’s recovery included $12 million in new street and utility infrastructure and $52 million in new schools, plus all new fire equipment at West Volunteer Fire Department, which already had a modern building.
The West Police Department, with nine full-time officers and five part-time reserve officers, has long been housed at West City Hall, 110 N. Reagan St. Police Chief Darryl Barton said the department has outgrown the outdated building, which was constructed in 1916. He said the town has a low crime rate but generates plenty of police calls.
“We stay busy with traffic, disturbances, minor offenses and preventative and community policing,” Barton said. “Even though we are a small town, we have a major interstate running through our city. We have a large influx of people coming into our town on a regular basis.”
West City Council members are considering a proposed 2,300-square-foot police building on a lot near Pine Avenue and Reagan Street, a block from City Hall and next door to the West Volunteer Fire Department. Muska said the project, including a metal-framed headquarters building, might cost $300,000 to $400,000 and could be completed in two phases.
“We are going to do it two stages, because we are very conservative and we don’t want to have to borrow the money,” Muska said. “The concrete and plumbing will be factored into the 2019-2020 budget and the walls going up and finishing work for the building will be in the 2020-2021 budget. We want to put it in through the regular budget process.”
The cost projections have not been finalized, although city council has been presented a balanced 2019-2020 budget. Muska said the city is planning on hosting two public hearings sometime in August to discuss the construction of the new police department.
A new police building would allow officers to adhere to current state and federal regulations for record-keeping, evidence collection and other requirements, Barton said.
Muska said updating City Hall to federal and state standards for the police department would be too costly. If plans are approved to move forward with the new police station, city administration will likely move into the old police headquarters.
“We are not going to let City Hall go to waste,” Muska said. “The police station would be used for storage, archives and maybe a conference room.”
He said cost estimates have not been finalized as the budget process is continuing for the city. Muska said the city has seen many upgrades in the last six years, but the need for a new police department is a high priority for the city.
“The business community has bounced back and we were very blessed with the fire department being blessed with donations and they got new equipment after the explosion,” he said. “Public safety has our full support and we are going to consider these plans as we move forward in our budget process.”