The future home of St. Charles law enforcement looks to be a new police station at Route 31 and Red Gate Road, which would take the hub of police operations out of the center of the city for the first time.
But the measure received preliminary approval only by a 5-4 vote, with aldermen this week instructing city staff members to proceed with plans for the new station, estimated to cost $18.6 million.
The city has only a portion of those funds, an amount City Administrator Mark Koenen referred to as "similar to a down payment on a house." City officials would borrow whatever remaining cash they will need, he said.
Remodeling the existing police station behind city hall would cost about $6.24 million. But that money would buy only about another 15 years in a facility a study deemed too antiquated to accommodate modern police procedures and jail standards. That sent aldermen on a quest to find a solution that would last at least 50 years. They all agreed a new, modern station is needed.
But the four "no" votes stemmed from lukewarm feelings about the site at Red Gate Road and Route 31. Aldermen Rita Payleitner, Art Lemke, Jo Krieger and Maureen Lewis voted against the plan, saying they want to maintain a significant police presence downtown.
Payleitner and Lewis also serve on the city's liquor control commission. The group and city police have made major progress in curtailing rowdy behavior at downtown taverns that helped fuel a "bar town" label for the city.
To allay fears of further problems, staff members included a plan to create a branch office of the police department at the existing downtown fire station. The plan didn't shift any of the "no" votes.
Koenen said the city did seek out a new downtown location for the police station, but a parcel of at least 2 acres near a main road was not available. Leasing a space also didn't seem like the most cost-effective solution, he said.
"At the end of the day, we already own the land on Route 31 and Red Gate, and we'll be able to own the building, which will allow us to operate out of it as we need to," Koenen said. "The bottom line is we're committed to providing a safe community. Wherever the police department is located, the citizens can be comfortable that their neighborhoods will be safe."
Police Chief James Keegan said the move would neither cause disruption in police services nor would the new location change the operation of the department. Keegan said officers are on constant patrol in the city, acting as mobile police departments wherever they are. As a result, there will be no lessening of police activity downtown or in any other part of the city, the chief said.
Aldermen must still take one final vote on the issue Monday, March 6. Alderman William Turner is the only alderman who hasn't cast a vote on the issue. But even if he created a 5-5 tie, Mayor Ray Rogina has said he will vote in favor of the move.
The new station would open in the fall of 2019. The current station will remain in operation until then. A branch office would not open until the new station comes online.
Aldermen have not yet decided what to do with the current police station property. Koenen said they could sell the land to a developer, lease the property, or adapt it for some other use.
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