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Police station gets a face-lift at 40

When Costa Mesa officials break ground today for a $27-million renovation and expansion of the city’s central police station, they’ll be embarking on the first major change to the facility since it was built nearly 40 years ago.

What’s changed since the station opened at the Fair Drive civic center in 1967? Nearly everything.

When the facility was built, the Costa Mesa Police Department had 132 full- and part-time employees, said Capt. Tom Warnack, who has headed the facility expansion project for about three months.

“Nearly 40 years later, we’ve got 272 full- and part-time employees, so it’s more than doubled. So that started us realizing a while back that we’ve run out of room, we need more space,” he said.

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Over the years, the standards have changed, too. The building doesn’t meet a number of city code requirements or earthquake standards, and the renovation will fix that, Warnack said.

Other than an expansion of the women’s lockers and restrooms that was completed in 2005, the facility has never had a major upgrade.

The expansion will add 11,423 square feet for four things: additional property and evidence storage, more space for detectives and crime scene investigations, expanded space for animal control, and a 2,600-square-foot auditorium and emergency operations center.

Outside, 38 new parking spaces will bring the civic center’s total to 495 spaces.

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The project also will renovate 75% of the existing police facility, completely redoing the building’s infrastructure — plumbing, electrical systems, and wiring for computers and other technology. The building will get a new roof and more security around the perimeter.

“We’re modernizing the building,” Warnack said. “When the building was built in the ‘60s, the need for security wasn’t as demanding as today.”

City officials expect this project to meet police department needs through 2020, and it was designed so that as much as 14,000 additional square feet could be added later.

The work will be done in two phases and will take about two and a half years. The expansion will be built and staff members will move into it, and then the renovation will begin. Temporary trailers will be used for some office space during the work.

Not everyone was behind the project when the City Council voted in 2002 to go ahead with the design, and some doubts remain. Planning Commissioner Bruce Garlich, who is running for a council seat, said at a candidate forum last week that the decision to expand was one of the council’s worst in the last few years.

“We should have gone out and done what was necessary to build a new police facility, and that is another one of the reasons why we are having trouble with the police department and recruiting cops,” Garlich said.

But City Manager Allan Roeder said there were some compelling reasons to renovate. First, the police department already is above the density allowed in the city’s general plan, he said.

“To scrap it [the site] and go with a multi-story building in this facility at this location when we wouldn’t allow that for any other property owner in the city was wrong,” Roeder said.

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It also would have cost “substantially” more because the city would have to rent facilities to use during construction, Roeder said, though he did not give cost estimates for a new facility.

Roeder said officials never considered going to another site.

Warnack pointed out that moving would have required buying land and also replacing key facilities such as the helipad and underground fuel system. The police department and community also benefit from having the facility next to City Hall and the emergency communications department, which works with the police department to dispatch calls but is a separate division, he said.

In response to questions about how long the new facility will be big enough, Roeder’s answer is that substations are probably the department’s future.

“We think that the key to that is putting those personnel out at facilities in the community, not building a larger warehouse station,” he said.


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