Jacksonville public safety facility set for July 2015 completion - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Jacksonville public safety facility set for July 2015 completion date

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JACKSONVILLE - AL -

Jacksonville police will get a new station after 80 years in the same building.

"This building was built top-of-the-line in 1934, however, it's fixing to be 2014," police chief Tommy Thompson said.

The Jacksonville City Council set a completion date of July 2015 for the city's new public safety facility.  It will house a police station, fire station, municipal courtroom, and city jail.  Construction will begin early next year between the high school and Walmart.

Chief Thompson said construction of a new building is long overdue, and he was thrilled with the council's decision.

"I was so involved in what they were talking about, when they said 'all in favor say aye', I said aye myself.  It's a blessing.  It's good for the town, it's good for the officers," he said.  "They're glad to come to work and get a car and get out of this place."

Thompson became a Jacksonville police officer in the early 1970s.  The station underwent a renovation a couple of years later.  The wood paneling on the walls of the chief's office he took over 25 years ago take Thompson back in time every day.  The plumbing needs repair and there are electrical issues.

"It imposes challenges, like getting enough power to computers, enough wires to run the computers.  When this thing was built, you had an overhead light and a plug for a radio.  You had the mechanical adding machines for the city clerk's office to use.  The police department didn't get radios until about 1957," he said.

The building is also too small.  None of the rooms in the building are large enough for the entire police department to have a meeting.  Thompson said they have to go outside the station to talk, or move to city hall.  The jail has four cells for men and two for women, which is not enough.

"Its useful life is just gone for a police station," mayor Johnny Smith said.

"We may keep it as a historic building, we'll keep it and do something else with that.  Hoping to maybe turn it into a museum or something.  They really need a new building," he said.

The fire department's current facilities are in good condition.  However, with city expansion, Smith said response times aren't where they could be, so the new facility will have a second fire station.  Coverage will improve with firefighters and trucks on two ends of town.

The public safety facility will also have a larger jail and a municipal courtroom which will double as a community storm shelter that can withstand winds up to 275 miles per hour..  During severe weather, the general public can join the police inside the safe room.

"We're glad to provide that for the citizens because we don't have a place like that in Jacksonville," Chief Thompson said.

"Out in the country, you may have a storm shelter built into the side of a mountain.  You might have a whole school bus buried or something like that, but in town, I don't know of many folks who have them, unless they've gone back and put them in their basements," he said.

The initial plan for this project also included a new municipal building, housing city hall and other offices.  Mayor Smith said the council changed its mind when the cost estimate came in at about $17 million.  He said there is a need for a new city hall but the Jacksonville can't afford it and a new public safety building.

"Now that we've eliminated building city hall, we're hoping to get it down to about the $11 million mark," Smith said.  "We've actually already borrowed the money.  We decided to do the bond issue while the interest rates were down.

"We're actually already making payment so we feel like that's really paying off for us because we've been paying the architect as we go.  Then we're putting some other money aside to help with some expenditures."

Jacksonville raised its sales tax to 10 percent last year in preparation for paying for the new facility, and to provide funding for the construction of a new elementary school.

"A lot of good things are happening, even with the economy kind of sluggish, we've done fairly well.  Our sales taxes remain fairly constant," mayor Smith said.

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