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Police Seek to Relocate, but Council Isn’t Moved

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Police Department proposal to move into the old Oxnard High School campus has drawn skepticism from local officials, who say the relocation would cost millions of dollars and renew safety concerns near Oxnard Airport.

Police Chief Harold Hurtt disclosed the plan late Thursday, saying the department has outgrown its C Street headquarters and wants to convert the old high school grounds into a “public safety campus.” That facility, at 5th and K streets, would include Fire Department headquarters and office space for numerous local social service agencies that counsel crime victims.

On Friday, a majority of City Council members--Dean Maulhardt, John Zaragoza and Mayor Manuel Lopez--criticized the relocation proposal.

Maulhardt said he agrees police need more space than the estimated 25,000 square feet at the department’s two-story downtown building. The department has added about 30 officers during Hurtt’s five-year tenure, and officials say the approximately 300 department employees need more parking space and lockers, as well as a holding area for juvenile prisoners.

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“The offices they have right now are cramped,” Maulhardt said. But it would be costly for the city to buy the old high school campus, remove asbestos and refit classrooms for police use, the councilman said.

According to school officials, the state will put the old high school site up for sale soon and seek to recover at least the $24 million it gave to Oxnard school officials to build a new high school farther from the airport. The new Oxnard High School, which opened in 1995, is off Gonzales Road.

The state-owned former campus, now used for city-sponsored recreation programs such as a youth boxing league, has about 15 buildings on 37 acres, officials said.

“The cost of rehabbing it may be prohibitive,” Maulhardt said. “You’d have to have temporary holding cells. How would we build those? There are a lot of unanswered questions. I would question the viability of this.”

Added Lopez: “I know [the police] are pretty crowded, but it depends on the numbers they give us. I don’t know whether we can afford it.”

Zaragoza noted the high school was closed two years ago amid concerns about low-flying planes at nearby Oxnard Airport.

“One of the things I would be concerned about it is, what part of the buildings are in the flight path?” Zaragoza said.

Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Tom Cady said police would not use any property in a safety zone that stretches across the old high school baseball field.

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Cady said police in Los Angeles County have successfully rehabilitated school sites for their use.

The department has not provided cost estimates on the relocation or come up with plans to bring new tenants to its headquarters near City Hall. Officials hope to present such details to the City Council on Sept. 23.

“At this point, it’s still a concept,” Cady said. “We want to see if there’s interest and support from the council.”

Cady added that the Fire Department, which takes up about 5,000 square feet in the same downtown building that houses the Police Department, has some concerns with the relocation proposal. Firefighters consider being downtown important, because they work closely with other city departments on fire-prevention programs, Cady said.

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Police say they would try to attract social service agencies to the refitted high school, creating a convenient location for crime victims.

“It could be like a one-stop service area for people needing services in the city,” Assistant Chief Stan Myers said. “The referral would be a couple steps away, rather than a drive to somewhere in Oxnard.”

Oxnard Union High School District Supt. Bill Studt said the district will continue to manage the site until the state finds a buyer for the campus. State officials did not return phone calls on the Oxnard Police Department’s relocation proposal.

The school superintendent said he has not been approached by city officials about the police relocation plan.

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“If the City Council is going to vote on that, it would be nice if they notified the school department,” Studt said.


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