The Central Fire Station was originally built in 1975 and the police department in 1984. Both were expanded in 1997. But as the city continued to grow, so did those departments.
Space is now at a premium with police spread among three different buildings, fire administration converting closets into offices and the Central Fire Station at capacity.
City officials have identified nearly $2.33 million worth of maintenance at the buildings, including leaky roofs, mold and obsolete equipment.
“When you look at these two facilities, in comparison to all of our other city facilities, they’re worn out,” City Manager Donna Barron said.
On the ballot
Lewisville voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to approve a $95 million bond measure to build a new public safety complex. The project is estimated to cost $96.7 million, with the remaining $1.7 million coming from 2015 bonds approved but not yet spent.
Barron said the city has looked at its debt capacity to ensure room not only to fund this new complex but also to handle future debt.
“Because of how the city has handled their debt over time, we can actually sell this debt without raising their [property] tax rate,” Barron said.
The existing police and fire buildings along Main Street and Valley Parkway would be torn down to make way for the new 116,000-square-foot complex. It would be more than three times the current size.
“We’ve just spent a lot more time looking at the options, and we believe that the better investment is to tear down the current and build new,” Barron said of the city’s plan.
Police Chief Kevin Deaver and Fire Chief Mark McNeal spoke at a Lewisville Chamber of Commerce luncheon Aug. 24 about what the expanded space would include.
“So the Main Street side is proposed as the police side that will come around to the corner, and as you turn north on Valley Parkway, you’ll have a fire station, fire administration and a parking garage in the back,” McNeal told the luncheon crowd.
Deaver said at the chamber luncheon that the proposal is the result of city personnel coming together with consultants to figure out what would be needed to operate successfully.
The new complex, Barron said, is “an investment in the future of your police and fire operations.”
The proposal calls for a new police administration building to connect the existing city jail on Main Street. A new space for fire administration would be built along with a new enlarged Central Fire Station with five vehicle bays instead of three.
“Central is our busiest district and roughly will stay that way from now on,” McNeal told council this summer.
The police and fire departments would be connected with shared spaces for training, a fitness center and conference rooms.
“If we weren’t willing to do that, we would have to build separate buildings, and there is a cost associated with that,” Deaver said.
The new complex would house the dispatch center and emergency operations center with backup generator power and the ability to withstand tornado-force winds.
A proposed two-story parking structure would add secure parking for police and fire personnel. It would also protect emergency and specialty vehicles from the weather and include some of the more industrial uses, such as weapons cleaning and evidence storage.
“We’re looking at full city buildout of what fire staff and police staff can ultimately be,” consultant Don Wertzberger with 720 Design Inc. told city officials during a July presentation.
If voters give their approval, the design process for a new public safety complex would begin shortly after that. City officials say there are a lot of logistics to consider. City personnel would have to relocate to temporary homes while the existing buildings are demolished and replaced. Those relocation costs are built into the total project budget, according to the city.
Preserving parking during construction for other city services, including the library and municipal court in that area, will also be key.
Construction would be expected to start in December 2022.
A city document detailed the ways that police and fire facilities cost more compared with other commercial buildings. It cites the technology needed to operate the 911 system, interview rooms and other areas, exhaust systems for emergency vehicles and storage for specialty gear.
The buildings require a host of security measures, including camera surveillance, gated access and areas rated for “minimal ramming resistance,” the report stated. In addition, a hardened facility that can serve as an emergency operations center requires extra costs to withstand 250 mph winds and have its own power supply, according to the report.
Lewisville does not have an emergency operations center. Instead, personnel are using one of the fire station’s training rooms, which requires a certain amount of preparation time to set up.
“In an emergency, that’s precious time you don’t want to be wasting,” said Russ Kerbow, who spent 40 years with the Lewisville Police Department and served as police chief from 2007 until his retirement in 2018.
During the February winter storms, Barron said she and Assistant City Manager Eric Ferris headed to the Central Fire Station to work but found there was no power. They moved to City Hall, where generators were enough to keep the lights on but run little else, she said.
“So I sat in this building for three days in a ski suit because we had no heat in this building,” Barron said. “Believe me, it was pretty cold.”
Getting under one roof
Expanding the police and fire departments is long overdue, Kerbow said. “We have never had enough space to have everyone in the same building,” Kerbow said.
The addition of a second floor to the police station was proposed during the 2015 bond election, but the extra space would have allowed only police administrative staff to move in, keeping dispatch annexed elsewhere.
“Before I retired, I told the city manager it would be silly to spend that money [from the 2015 bond election] on that second floor,” Kerbow said. “It would be smarter to wait until you could get more together to redo the whole thing, starting from scratch.”
Beyond the inconvenience of having staff dispersed, the space itself causes safety concerns for officers, Kerbow said. Locker room space is so limited that police officers and firefighters often take home gear and keep it in their personal vehicles.
“There is some risk involved with that as we are involved in crime scenes,” Kerbow said. “The contaminants you encounter during the day can end up back home. The fire department goes through the same issue. They don’t want to take any contaminants they encounter at a fire scene back to their families.”
Recent assessments show that the police and fire buildings both need new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The current systems use a type of freon containing ozone-depleting substances that are being phased out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Parts are no longer available, the report stated.
Both buildings also need new roofs as leaks have been reported in recent years, including in the police evidence room, according to the city.
“It didn’t matter who we had come out to try and fix it. It was always temporary,” Kerbow said. “By the next big rainstorm the roof would leak again.”
Consultants told City Council in July that the $96.7 million price tag would provide a grade A facility and fulfill all the city’s needs. Also included in that figure, they said, are the anticipated increases in building costs and materials that have dominated the construction industry for more than a year.
City officials have already begun the search for a design firm. The city’s goal would be to award a contract shortly after the Nov. 2 election if voters give the OK for the funding.
Voter turnout will be key since it is an off year for elections.
”We’re making a really concerted effort to get out and talk to the public about this and make them aware of it,” Barron said. “We hope we have good turnout.”
Also helping to get out the vote will be Kerbow, who is part of a new political action committee called Friends of Lewisville First Responders. The group is designed to inform voters about the bond and to support its passage in November.
“It is a facility that is sorely needed, is way overdue for being built and we’re not taxing our citizens any more,” Kerbow said. “It’s a win-win.”