CHPD moving to new space at former BCBS Building

GOVERNMENT

By Adam Powell
Correspondent

At the September 13 meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council, the elected board approved an agreement to lease new space for the Chapel Hill Police Department (CHPD).

CHPD will be moving its headquarters to the former home of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBS) at 1830 Fordham Boulevard along Highway 15-501 in The Parkline commercial development. 

It will take approximately a year for CHPD to relocate. They aim to fully transition to the new headquarters by the summer of 2024 after a lease is negotiated and the building is outfitted for the department’s specific needs.

Chief of Police Celisa Lehew showed slides of the current police department building’s interior, displaying some of the site’s shortcomings for the public. 

The photos showed jumbled and loose wire connections and considerable staining on ceiling tiles and carpeting due to years of wear and moisture.

“At 41 years old, our building is in significant disrepair and in dire need of costly maintenance.” Chapel Hill’s top cop continued, “It needs a $450,000 new roof, which will only fix the leaks. On a good day, we have hot water. On a bad day, we continue to trip breakers from plugging in needed equipment.”

“We’ve been patient as we’ve looked for a new space to accommodate us,” Chief Lehew continued. “Our current building is 23,000 square feet, and we have long since outgrown that.  Opportunities to meet our space needs are limited throughout town. This opportunity for us to move to Parkline works for us. It’s sustainable, it’s safe, it’s functional, and it’s accessible.”

The town’s ultimate goal at the Martin Luther King Jr. site is to build a Municipal Services Center that will include a new police headquarters. Deputy Town Manager Mary Jane Nirdlinger presented a detailed itemization of anticipated costs of the new police department building. That cannot take place until coal ash remediation work is done at the site.  

Chapel Hill would look at the new facility’s projected cost of $82.8 million. This cost combines construction, site work including landscaping, connections, and additional logistics, as well as the demolition of the current police department building.

“We intend to continue with the Brownfields [coal ash remediation] agreement process with the state,” Nirdlinger explained, adding that once the Department of Environmental Quality publishes its draft agreement, there will be a 30-day public comment period and a public hearing.

“We’ve most recently explored the existing police department site at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as a potential location for the Municipal Services Building,” Nirdlinger said. “We’re also working on a Brownfields agreement with the state for this site” [for the coal ash remediation].

Nirdlinger explained that the Municipal Services Center was envisioned as a facility for multiple town uses, but the current construction estimates are beyond the town’s debt capacity.

“We did look at scaling the project down to only a police department, but that was also a stretch financially as well as timewise,” Nirdlinger explained. “And the situation and the conditions of the existing building have really pushed us to do some creative problem-solving. 

“We had already anticipated needing a temporary location for the police department during construction. So, we did explore several locations in town. And as you can imagine, there are limited options with width that have this space and the parking and the access to meet the department’s needs.”

In light of the current situation regarding construction costs – and having to finance those costs – town leaders thought it made more sense to consider a long-term lease that would allow the police department to relocate to an appropriate location for a significant length of time.

That will allow the police department and the town to formulate its plan, including financing for a permanent solution in a town-owned police department building.

Chapel Hill anticipates an approximate annual lease of $1.5 million, which could last for anywhere from seven to ten years. The refurbished former Blue Cross/Blue Shield site has sat vacant for more than three years leading up to this new agreement with CHPD.

Nirdlinger told the town council, “Leasing makes financial sense now, because it gets our police into a good space within about a year instead of waiting several years for construction. And it frees up the debt fund for other projects for the seven to 10-year duration of a lease.”

The council voted unanimously in favor of the request to relocate to Fordham Boulevard.

“This sounds like a good plan,” said Town Council Member Adam Searing. “It seems like we’re getting a pretty good deal on this site, especially compared to building. This takes some of the pressure off of us with trying to clean up the coal ash, because we can now know that the police station has a home at least for a while.”

“We have to move – you have to move. There is no doubt,” fellow Council Member Camille Berry added. “I’m amazed at how long you [CHPD] have held off on putting this before us.

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