The members of the Pine Bluff City Council Public Safety Committee said Thursday afternoon that they plan to recommend that the full council approve a $2.4 million project to renovate the Joe Thomas Public Safety Building.
Committee members Wayne Easterly, ill Brumett and George Stepps met in council chambers Thursday to hear a presentation from Fred Reed of the Reed Architectural Firm and Richard Taylor of the Nelson Architectural Group on the work they have done in creating a construction plan for the project.
Larry Matthews, director of the city’s economic and community development program, said that a group including himself, Reed. Taylor, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, Police Chief Jeff Hubanks and Fire Chief Shauwn Howell has been meeting regularly to discuss the project.
“At this point the architects have gone as far as they can in the planning stage,” Matthews said
Reed said the first priority for the renovation work — which he estimated would be complete by May 2015 — will be the creation of a public entrance for visitors to the police department at street level adjacent to the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department’s fire truck bays on State Street.
“Right now people who need to pay fines must either go through the back of the fire station to access the elevator that will take them to the police department or they have to climb the stairs up to the plaza level,” Reed said. “We will construct a new entrance that allows people who simply need to pay a fine to speak with a receptionist stationed just inside the entrance on the first floor who will be able to help them.”
Reed said the work will include a complete update of electrical wiring and plumbing throughout the building.
“The building was built in 1963 and because it is 50 years old its current electrical system is under a lot of stress trying to power the many items that need electricity, including computers, printers and copiers,” Taylor said.
Reed said the plan calls for the removal of the old jail area that is currently being used to store evidence. The renovation will create new offices for the patrol and detective divisions, as well as creating two holding cells and an area where suspects can be brought in for questioning.
“The current location of the detective offices will become a gym for use of the police and fire departments,” Reed said. “We will also do waterproofing of the building. For the fire department space on the third floor we will redo the existing locker area and remodel the bathroom to include a designated women’s shower area to accommodate female firefighters.”
Taylor said the $2.4 million estimate includes a 10 percent contingency fee in anticipation of unknown future expenses, but it does not include the $274,000 cost of a new chiller for the Joe Thomas Public Safety Building and $209,000 for a new chiller for City Hall.
City Finance Director Steve Miller explained several options for financing the construction project.
“We have a little over $1.9 million available in bond funds and another $218,000 is available through the jail fund,” Miller said. “That gives us a little over $2.1 million, leaving us $280,000 short.”
Miller said the city is looking at several potential financing options.
“We have the option of paying off our current bond issue in May and getting new bonds at a lower interest rate,” Miller said. “At current interest rates the city can save $213,000 in interest expense by refunding this bond issue at 3.42 percent.”
Miller said the city also has the option of increasing the amount of bonds issued in the refunding process to receive additional project funds.
“We could receive $1 million in project funds, with the increase in the city’s annual payment offset partially by the lower interest rate,” Miller said.
Stepps asked Howell and Hubanks if they were comfortable with the plans as presented and each answered in the affirmative.
“I feel like this is a step in the right direction,” Hubanks said. “The building itself is a monument to Joe Thomas. He started out as a custodian in the police station, then went on to become the first African-American police officer in Pine Bluff and then the first African-American chief of police. We need to bring the building up to where it needs to be to honor his legacy.”
Hubanks said he has a personal connection to Thomas.
“My uncle, Chief Norman Young, hired Joe Thomas as a police officer,” Hubanks said. “When I joined the force in 1985 Joe Thomas was my first boss. Out of the 14 police chiefs that I served under, only one was worth emulating; Chief Joe Thomas.”