Vancouver is officially moving forward with the acquisition of a new headquarters for its police department, concluding several months of negotiations aimed at helping the department keep up with the city’s steady population growth.
The city council unanimously voted Monday evening to approve moving the police department’s administrative personnel to a two-story, 44,800-square-foot building at 521 Chkalov Drive.
The agreement with the property’s current owner, Angelo Property Co., would require the city to lease the building for at least three years, with the option to buy out in 2022 for about $10.5 million.
Until 2017, the building had served as a call center for Wells Fargo. The city council first heard about purchasing the building during an executive session in June and revisited the idea in September, said Jonathan Young, Vancouver’s acting city attorney.
“City leadership keeps a careful watch on the real estate market in Vancouver,” Young said. “Seeking out property for a police headquarters building is a unique challenge.”
Details of the space
The Chkalov building is suited to a police headquarters for a few reasons, Young said. Most crucial is its location.
The former call center is close to major arterials — Mill Plain Boulevard, Interstate 205 and state Highway 14. The location is also about a half-mile south of an area with a high concentration of 911 calls, Young said.
“Which serves the added benefit of adding police presence to an area that recently has been experiencing high call volumes,” he said.
The new location wouldn’t immediately house responding officers, he said, but the headquarters would have room to house them in the future. Instead, planned uses of the space include an office for the police chief; administrative division; professional standards, training and background units; logistics; finance; and payroll.
The building is also well-suited for police purposes because the interior is flexible. As a former office, it has a relatively open layout with few fixed interior walls — in other words, Young said, it’s just full of cubicles.
“They can simply be configured to the police department’s needs,” he said.
Built in 1989, the structure’s style would also make it relatively cheap and easy to retrofit and bring it up to current seismic standards. Unlike some older buildings, which require the insertion of steel braces, the building could be brought up to code with wooden reinforcements. It’s much cheaper, Young said.
The space could also help accommodate a growing department, Assistant Police Chief Troy Price said. The department is already struggling to keep up with Vancouver’s rising population, expected to add 17,300 residents within city limits by 2030, and even more than that within the Urban Growth Area.
A new headquarters acquisition will free up more space in the existing east and west precincts. The west precinct is especially packed to the gills, Price said.
“We’ve outgrown it,” Price said. “We’ve really reached the end of our growth potential without additional space.”
There’s currently no room for training at the existing headquarters, located at 605 E. Evergreen Blvd. Police Chief James McElvain told The Columbian last week that the department has had to rely on the good graces of local property owners to provide spaces for special training.
“We’ve used churches, we’ve used some of the local hotels, we’ve used Clark College to try and accommodate training,” McElvain said.
While the Chkalov building itself sits on 2.3 acres and includes around 285 parking spaces, it’s also adjacent to a 1.4-acre vacant lot. The city has first right of refusal if the owner of the lot wishes to sell the vacant space and, in theory, could expand into the plot of land.
The need for a larger police facility came up in 2017, when a multiyear staffing plan authorized the police department to hire 61 new positions by 2020. Currently, the department can hire up to 228 sworn officers and 60 civilian staffers, McElvain said.
However, a recent spate of retirements and a training bottleneck — the period of time between recruiting an officer, and letting him or her run patrols as a fully sworn officer — has left the department understaffed. The bottleneck has also freed up some funds to acquire the new headquarters, between $600,000 and $1 million in unspent salaries.
That, along with a recent multiyear audit that found $5.5 million worth of underspending at the jail and $4 million worth of unallocated money in the city’s general fund, will cover the cost of acquiring the new headquarters.
The city will enter into a six-year lease starting at $54,149 monthly with a 3 percent annual increase. Under the agreement approved Monday, Vancouver will have the option to purchase the building after three years at an option price of $10,460,500.
“This is a rare opportunity to secure the right building in the right location in the city,” Young said. “It’s geographically central, and also fits our current and future needs for the department.”