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Mayor Dan Williams, Police Chief Wayne Harper, look over blueprints with construction superintendent Wendell Fain and project manager Chris Selby at the Athens Police Department groundbreaking Monday.
AP Photo by Gary Lloyd
Mayor Dan Williams, Police Chief Wayne Harper, look over blueprints with construction superintendent Wendell Fain and project manager Chris Selby at the Athens Police Department groundbreaking Monday.

Athens police closer to new home
City officials break ground on two-story department

By Holly Hollman
DAILY Staff Writer

hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — An idea born in 2002 finally has evolved into something — a nearly 2-acre site of puddles and orange mud.

Between today and October 2006, residents should see a new home for the Athens Police Department rise on that muddy site.

On Monday, city and police officials held a groundbreaking for the $2.95 million department under construction at Hobbs, Thomas and Shaw streets. The 18,000-square-foot facility will be two stories and include room for a municipal court.

Wendell Fain, job superintendent for Pearce Construction, said work is on schedule. Workers have poured the interior footing and south footing, he said. Wet and cold weather could hinder construction during the winter, he said, but that is expected.

Police officials have been waiting for this day since 2002, when the previous council borrowed $8 million, part of which was to fund a station when a space utilization study showed the Police Department had the most pressing need for space. The department's basement, which houses evidence, also floods during heavy rains, the area has mold and there have been past problems with spider infestations.

Despite the need for a new building, getting to Monday's groundbreaking has been a journey as slippery as the rain-soaked construction site.

When the previous council borrowed the $8 million, it decided to address the Police Department's space needs and fire coverage needs to its growing east side. To do that, it wanted to construct a public safety building for police and fire on donated property near U.S. 72 and Interstate 65.

During the past three years, the city has spent more than $300,000 on site work and engineering, architectural and construction manager costs without getting a building. That's because the following occurred:

  • Original bids on the U.S. 72 site came in too high.
  • An election changed the council's makeup, and new councilmen wanted a downtown site.
  • The council debated sites and changed its mind from building a public safety building, to a police station, to a new City Hall and back to a police station.
  • When the council chose Hobbs Street for a police station, it learned that the subdivision next to the site had restrictive covenants, and the city had to condemn the property.
  • Before construction could begin, the site had to undergo environmental tests, sewer line relocation and the addition of fill dirt.

    "Building in the public sector is never easy," said Public Works Director James Rich.

    Now that construction has started, the question is: What will the city do with the old Police Department?

    Mayor Dan Williams said City Hall offices such as Human Resources need more room for records, and the Fire Department needs more office space.

    "We may tear the old jail down and put a conference room there," he said. "We may allow other entities to use space at City Hall. Whatever we do, it's not going to be anything major."

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