Study recommends relocating Lenexa public safety complex to centralized location

Citing lowered project costs and room for expansion at a new, centralized location, Lenexa city leaders last week again showed informal support for relocating the public safety complex to city-owned property at Prairie Star Parkway and Britton Street. Above, a design concept for the new complex on Prairie Star Parkway.

After several months of analyzing Lenexa’s public safety needs, a study recommends building a new police station and municipal courthouse in a central part of the city.

Citing lowered project costs and room for expansion at a new, centralized location, Lenexa city leaders last week again showed informal support for relocating the public safety complex to city-owned property at Prairie Star Parkway and Britton Street. The Lenexa City Council will likely consider officially accepting the recommendation from the public safety master plan at a city meeting in August.

In a presentation to the Lenexa City Council on July 21, Dean Roberts of MWL Architects again shared the advantages and disadvantages of two options for improving the city’s public safety facilities. Located on 87th Street Parkway near Quivira Road, the police station and municipal courthouse are 40 years old and require significant improvements.

Roberts said the new site would allow for expansion of the public safety complex and additional parking in the future.

City leaders had shown support for the project plan on the new site during discussions about the public safety master plan and study in December 2019.

MWL Architects have since updated project cost estimates for the proposals at both sites. Rebuilding the public safety complex on the existing site on 87th Street Parkway is projected to cost $71-75 million, while building a new facility on city-owned property at Prairie Star Parkway and Britton Street is estimated at $66.5-70.5 million.

Roberts said rebuilding the site will cost more money primarily because the police station must remain open, which could impact the construction timeline and raise the cost.

City leaders weigh financial uncertainty caused by pandemic with need for police training

“We can’t delay training for the police department; in the world we live in today, there’s more emphasis on training for police officers than there’s ever been, and that’s not going to go down, that’s going to go up, for good reason,” said Dean Roberts of MWL Architects regarding Lenexa’s public safety complex project.

Citing financial uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy City Manager Todd Pelham said the city could consider a phased approach to spread construction costs over more than one budget cycle.

As such, the study contemplated a phased construction plan for the new site on Prairie Star Parkway. The first phase would cost roughly $52-55 million and delay the second phase to another budget year.

The phased approach would delay expansion of additional training facilities on the new site. Roberts stressed that core training facilities should be built in the initial phase.

“We can’t delay training for the police department; in the world we live in today, there’s more emphasis on training for police officers than there’s ever been, and that’s not going to go down, that’s going to go up, for good reason,” he said. “Any profession that handles what police officers do deserves the best investment in training that we can give them to be successful.”

City Manager Beccy Yocham said the city had tentatively budgeted $60 million in the city’s 2020-24 capital improvement program for the public safety complex. And then COVID-19 happened.

“I think it would maybe be a little inappropriate for us to just keep marching down the road pretending like that hadn’t happened, and while we are absolutely not recommending that we don’t build the full program because the training elements are so important, we would also probably be a little irresponsible if we didn’t ask ourselves, what if we can’t build the whole thing?” Yocham said. “We hope that won’t be the case, that’s not what we’re recommending, we don’t want that. But you have to ask that question when you find yourselves in the situation that we found ourselves in.”

City leaders support plans for sustainable public safety facilities

“Now, it seems woefully inadequate,” said Councilmember Tom Nolte of the existing public safety complex, Lenexa’s former city hall which was built in 1980.

In general, councilmembers said they supported moving quickly forward with the project, noting the need to balance any financial uncertainties caused by the pandemic with the good market for bonds to cover construction costs.

“A year ago, we would have never considered defunding the police — I don’t think we’re considering that in Lenexa either — but public buildings, the uses don’t expire,” Boehm said. “So in my mind, we’re good stewards of dollars if we paid more to get something long-lasting that’s adaptable and flexible.”

Councilmembers noted that flexibility in the functionality of the public safety complex is critical, especially as technology evolves and creates unanticipated challenges for police officers and courthouse staff.

“That police station, at the time, was a marvel and was a pinnacle in Johnson County; no one had anything like that,” said Councilmember Tom Nolte. “Now, it seems woefully inadequate, and it’s time to do something… I realize that technology has changed everything just in the last 20 years, and I think that we’ll continue to see these radical things, and we can’t even anticipate what life in Lenexa will be like in 40 years.”

Should the city council accept the recommendation, then the council will consider a financing plan for the public safety complex as a capital improvement project for 2021. In the meantime, the city may begin site preparations such as installing underground fiber in order “to keep the project moving,” Pelham added.

Additionally, the city would need to decide what to do with the existing site, such as making room for a new fire station, repurposing the existing building or selling the property.