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Council considers safety issues as Ballwin Police building debate continues

Safety concerns may rule as the deciding factor in where to locate the new Ballwin Police facility.

Architectural consultants John Mueller and Jon Emert were back at the Feb. 10 Board of Aldermen meeting representing JEMA, the St. Louis-based planning, architectural and design firm charged with conceptualizing Ballwin’s remaining options. The duo presented full site plans, floor plans, site topography and three-dimensional mapping as well as the pros and cons and updated total project costs for each site, specifically the city’s former government center site and the Kehrs Mill Road/Kehrs Mill Bend Court site behind the Regions Bank, adjacent to Vlasis Park.

“What we try to do here is to look very specifically at each of these sites,” Mueller said of the presentation. “With the new chief [Doug Schaeffler] here, we’ve had the opportunity to meet with him a couple of times to go through the floor plans, go through the site plans, get his comments, get [City Administrator Bob Kuntz’s] comments, take those comments and really get into dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on these sites.”

The former Ballwin Government Center

The proposed new building on the old government site is projected to be a split-level, 25,500-square-foot building. A fence would separate visitor parking from secure parking, Some of those spaces would be covered [roughly 52], but all would be regular surface parking.

The pros expressed for that site were:

• Replacing an unoccupied building with the new structure.

• No parking structure is required

• The city already controls the property.

The cons expressed for that site were:

• An existing cell tower would need to be relocated from its site or integrated into the new building with a cost involved.

• Low visibility from Manchester Road; though the proposed building would be two-story, it still would be below Manchester Road height.

• Added cost to demolish the existing building.

• Ingress/egress issues in the possibility that someone could block the only access drive; would need another exit through a non-public street.

• Security of having the rear parking area so far below Manchester Road.

One proposed site of a new Ballwin Police building is located immediately behind the Regions Bank building at 14915 Manchester Road.

The proposed site located behind the Regions Bank building at 14915 Manchester and near Kehrs Mill Road/Kehrs Mill Bend Court would house a 24,680-square-foot, three-level structure with lower-level parking and two floors of department space.

The pros expressed for this site were:

• Visibility from Manchester Road

• Two means of ingress and egress access.

• Clearly delineated separation of police and public parking.

• No demolition would be required.

• No known utility issues on site

The cons expressed for this site were:

• The city will require a property donation to make the site work.

• The lot size is smaller, necessitating underground parking.

• Kehrs Mill Bend Court would need to be relocated for site access, at an additional cost.

Originally, the city had sought site locations with a minimum of 28,000 square feet; however, that requirement was lowered over time.

The approximate project costs at this time were $10,652,000 for the former government site and $11,324,500 for the Kehrs Mill Road/Kehrs Mill Bend Court site.

“That includes the bricks and mortar construction for the facility itself as well as all the soft costs, including furniture, professional fees, engineering fees and site borings,” Emert explained.

Regarding safety, Alderman Mike Utt [Ward 1] asked about the cost to add lower level parking under the former government center, which would raise the overall building height though not above the level of Manchester Road. He was told the cost would be about $800,000 for about 30 covered parking sites.

Alderman Frank Fleming [Ward 3] addressed whether the building design being proposed for the Kehrs Mill Road/Kehrs Mill Bend Court site could be modified and repositioned on the former government site, creating a “best of both worlds” scenario.

Mueller said the city could indeed take the building developed for the Kehrs Mill site and with some modifications plug it into the former government site. It would be conceptually similar to the other site in the sense that parking would be embedded into the hill.

Stallman asked if there were any safety concerns with the sally port [police secure entrance] basically being overlooked by a busy street like Manchester.

“That’s definitely a con[cern] for this site,” Mueller said. “Typically, when we’re looking at sites for other municipalities, putting a police facility at a lower elevation from a busy thoroughfare is something they typically steer away from.”

Kuntz reiterated that the former government site has two fixed points that can’t be changed. You can’t change Manchester Road’s elevation or the roadway that goes into the park, and that facility would be akin to being an island between those two fixed points, he said.

Mueller tried to ease those concerns a bit by mentioning that very few windows would be required on the top floor of the building where the more serious police work would be conducted.

“You certainly don’t want to give clear access especially downhill access, into a window of a police station,” Mueller said. “That’s why the majority of the squad room and investigation room are looking out over the park and the grade is much lower at that point. It gives us the opportunity to create a much higher sill and a more protected area for the police.”

Still, Utt said he would like to have a garage under the building for the security of the police officers; not just to protect the cars, but for their safety as well. He then asked Schaeffler directly which location he preferred.

“Simply looking at the security aspects, obviously the bank parking lot is more preferred because the way it’s set up, the current government center now, every time a cop gets out of his car, walks into the building or out of the building, he’s going to have to look up at the sidewalk to make sure nobody’s targeting him,” Schaeffler said. “Again, it’s not a likely scenario, but the way things are going, this is what’s going to happen every time they go in or out of the car. Additionally, when you’re on that sidewalk, you’re looking down on our building. So, we can’t have any windows on that side unless you want to put bullet-proof glass in. And that’s also the perfect place for the media to set up and to look at police operations from behind. So, there’s a lot of concern with that.”

Mueller and Kuntz pointed out that these designs are preliminary and modifications could be made but first, the council will have to make a firm decision on which site to choose or whether to open up site plan possibilities to another design firm.

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