The first step in a long process to replace the Marshalltown Police and Fire Departments began Monday.
At Monday night’s Committee of the Whole Meeting, the council considered a memo from a committee comprised of the police and fire chiefs and the city administrator. The committee is recommending that the council approve spending $55,000 on a space needs study.
Both the Marshalltown Fire Chief and Police Chief said their departments are in dire need of new buildings, saying they are both inefficient and ineffective.
Marshalltown Fire Chief Steve Edwards said one of the biggest problems the fire department has is that much of its equipment is too large to fit into its building. The MFD stores its tanker, which is uses in areas without hydrant access, at the Public Works building on East Main Street and its hazardous material equipment at Riverview Park.
“When we get a call, we have to send someone to go get that equipment,” he said. “That kind of breaks us up and delays us a little in getting there.”
As equipment continues to grow, so too will the problem, he said. But space isn’t the only problem. The building, constructed in 1955, is beginning to see structural wear. A wall along the south of the building is in need of repair, which would cost between $300,000 and $400,000. So, the department is at the point where it needs to decide whether to dump more money into repairing an aging building or simply invest in a new one.
The money for the study, taken from the capital improvement plan budget, would go to FEH Associates, Inc. and McClaren, Wilson & Lawrie Inc. to perform a space needs study for the two departments.
Randy Wetmore, city administrator and chair of the committee that decided on the two firms, said the study would help determine whether a combined department is feasible, how much space is needed to accommodate both departments and give a rough estimate of the cost.
“They will help determine not only square footage but also auxiliary things like parking to get the real footprint,” he said. “Then you can come up with how many acres do you need to site such a place just because you can find a piece of property that is a certain size doesn’t mean that piece of property will work.”
Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper said the problems with the police department are vast. A lack of space, privacy and safety all contribute to the MPD’s need for a new building, he said.
“It was never designed to be a police department to begin with,” Tupper said of the building.
The building is difficult to heat and cool, and the MPD has twice as many employees as it did when it first began operating out of the building, he said. Also, the criminal intake area is not up to security standards.
Another major problem is that the layout of the building does not allow for much space for officers to meet with witnesses or victims privately.
“We should be able to afford them more privacy it’s just not a professional facility,” he said. “We have people on top of people.”
The study will take between three and four months. Another $5,500 would be earmarked for operational expenses, according to the memo to the council. The council will vote on whether to go with the committee’s recommendation at its Monday meeting.