By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – The attribute list for a future City Hall and Police Department complex continues to challenge the search committee, which has issued a letter of intent for the former Oakwood Health Care Center.
At the Nov. 14 Municipal Complex Committee meeting concerns continued to be raised over adequate space for both police and city officials inside the former Oakwood Health Care Center at 15915 Southfield Road, sufficient parking, and secure parking for police.
The lack of space for a gun range, three separate roof segments, limited natural daylight, and missing building plans raised concerns, as did the past gas contamination that forced an evacuation of the adjacent court building, and a decontamination issue still in litigation.
Architect Najim Saymuah of CDPA Architects and Planners LLC of Dearborn said the inside of the Oakwood site will require a lot of demolition, but the walls and frame are fine. He said it is a conglomeration of three separate buildings.
“Whenever you go into an existing facility, for reuse of it, you are going to be making compromises,” Saymuah said. “It is not the most ideal because you have an existing structure and you are trying to fit other needs than what the building was designed for.”
Saymuah said the limited daylight is going to bother many of the occupants of the building.
City Councilman Larry Templin said if compromises have to be made, it will be made on the city hall side, not on the police side.
Saymuah said they have not been successful in finding the existing plans for the building.
Community Development Director Dave Boomer said no matter what building the city relocates into, it is essential to establish a plan for how much square footage is needed for different functions.
“I think we need to have a space plan on what our space needs are,” Boomer said.
Saymuah said that since the city is trying to save money by buying and adapting an existing structure, they will try to make their design work with the structures that are in place.
Councilman Harry Sisko confirmed that Saymuah will study the adequacy of the parking situation. He also brought up the possibility of closing Philomene Boulevard to the west of the building to provide secured parking for the Police Department.
Saymuah said there must be enough secure spaces for both shifts during overlapping times. He said that based on his experience, using a street behind a building for police secured parking poses a liability even if there were enough parking there.
Councilwoman Tina Gaworecki said they had discussed using the parking area between the court and the former Oakwood facility to provide secured parking, so it would be available for the court judges as well as police personnel.
“We are going to approach this with an open mind,” Saymuah said. “If you go ahead with this project, and we combine the parking lots, the court is going to have some relief for parking.”
Saymuah said the Police Department would not only need a restricted access, fenced and gated area for parking, it would preferably have a canopied area to protect electronics inside police vehicles from sun damage.
Police Sgt. Wayne Albright, who was in attendance, confirmed for committee members that officers do not store firearms in their parked cars.
Saymuah also mentioned the security concerns of escorting detainees to and from vehicles and the facility. He also said a shooting range was not feasible at the former Oakwood site.
He said he doesn’t want the building to still look like a strip mall after it has been renovated.
“I wouldn’t be doing justice to the city if it did,” Saymuah said.
City Administrator Mark Kibby said the appraised value of the former Oakwood site is $1.75 million. He also said the city is in the eviction process with a gas station adjacent to the property.
Boomer said that about six months ago gas allegedly was seeping up through the ground. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has been on site several times, and there have been three different consultants on site, testing both the tanks, the pipes to the tanks, the area around the tanks, and even around the court building.
“To this date they are unable to locate the exact cause of that gasoline,” Boomer said. “It was noticed inside the (court) building, and the levels were so high they closed the building down. We have not been able to determine the exact cause of where the gas is coming from.”
Boomer said neither the MDEQ nor any of the three consultants were able to determine where the gas originated.
He said the gas station tanks are empty, and the owners have been told that if they get clear readings inside the gas station four day in a row, they could reopen. Meanwhile, they have been closed because the building owner, the tank owner, and the tenant of the property are trying to resolve who will pay for any cleanup that may be necessary, and who is going to be responsible for costs already incurred.
Albright said he is concerned that the city is considering spending almost $2 million on a property that the architect said earlier in the meeting was not big enough for the desired usage. He noted that if the building is added onto, parking spaces will be lost.
He mentioned the unresolved environmental concerns with the adjacent gas station.
“All these things we are trying to shove down everybody’s throats because we assume that this is the only possibility that we have,” Albright said. “And again, we go back to a building that we know is not big enough.”
He said as a police officer, all present were aware that the property could not sustain a gun range.
“This is the one and first and only time that we’ve had the opportunity to actually speak up as a police department and say, ‘This is what we need,’” Albright said. “What’s disappointing with me is that it was never even on the table from day one.
“We use words and promises like, “We are doing our due diligence,’ and ‘making decisions for Allen Park.’ I have never heard anyone say, ‘We are doing our due diligence to see what is best for the police department.’”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)