The city of Vancouver is in negotiations to purchase a new headquarters for the police department.
According to an abruptly updated agenda for Monday’s city council meeting, the headquarters for the Vancouver Police Department may soon move to a vacant, 45,000-square-foot building at 521 Chkalov Drive. Until 2017, the building had served as a call center for Wells Fargo.
A draft lease-to-purchase agreement between Vancouver and Angelo Property Co. would see the city pay out approximately $3.5 million over five years for the space. The lease could kick in as early as Nov. 1.
According to City Manager Eric Holmes, the Vancouver Police Department is outgrowing its current space at 605 E. Evergreen Blvd. It moved into the existing 17,000-square-foot headquarters in 2002. Since then, the department has taken on more officers and support staff to keep up with a city population that’s grown by more than 20,000 people over the last 17 years.
“It’s actually been a growing need for several years now,” Holmes told The Columbian on Wednesday. “There’s been this combination of factors that increased pressure.”
The need for a larger police facility came to light following a 2017 multiyear staffing plan, which authorized the police department to hire 61 additional positions by 2020. The additions would restore the department to its pre-recession level — and then some.
“Since I’ve been the chief, we went from being authorized 190 sworn to now authorized 228,” said Police Chief James McElvain, who took the helm of the department in 2013. “On our civilian staff, we had roughly 24, and now we’re nearly 60.”
In 2016, the police department also took over its own record-keeping duties, which had been contracted out with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. The new records department takes up yet more room in the current headquarters, McElvain said.
Additionally, the police department lacks a dedicated space for training exercises, and counts on local land and business owners to provide locations for officers to conduct specialized drills. As the economy improves, Holmes said, free space is getting harder to come by.
“Under the good graces of private property owners who have made space available, that space is dwindling,” Holmes said.
McElvain said the department has conference rooms at its east and west precincts, but it counts on the community in order to conduct certain kinds of defensive and tactical trainings.
“We’ve used churches, we’ve used some of the local hotels, we’ve used Clark College to try and accommodate training,” McElvain said.
With nearly triple the square footage of the current location, the new headquarters building would have room for dedicated training space.
Funding for the building’s purchase will likely come from a couple different sources, Holmes said.
“We recently completed a multiyear audit of our jail expenses. They came in below what had been budgeted, and that is a significant chunk of resources that are already committed to public safety functions,” Holmes said.
A spate of retirements at the police department also freed up some financial resources, Holmes added.
Currently, the police department is a tenant at its Evergreen Boulevard headquarters as part of the city’s master lease with The Historic Trust. Assuming the city council takes action Monday, Holmes said, the tentative timeline would see police functions moved from the existing location by the second quarter of 2020.
Further discussion of the proposed purchase will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St. The meeting is open to the public.