If the City Council goes along with the city staff’s advice, Durham’s new police headquarters will be on East Main Street, at the former Carpenter Chevrolet location.
The 600 block of East Main was favored over two other sites under consideration: police headquarters’ current location on West Chapel Hill Street and a vacant tract off Fayetteville Street formerly occupied by an apartment complex.
“There were a number of factors that weighed in,” said Joel Reitzer, the city’s general services director.
The Fayetteville Street site, given its proximity to the in-progress Southside redevelopment, seemed better suited for housing or some mixed-use development, Reitzer said. Buildings and a slope hide the site from Fayetteville Street, while the Main and Chapel Hill sites are prominent locations with easy street and sidewalk access.
A new police headquarters “need(s) to be accessed by all members of the community, (for them) to be able to recognize where it is and be able to go in and transact business,” he said. With headquarters at 600 East Main, the city might be able to arrange to use the county’s Human Services parking lot for overflow if needed, Reitzer said.
Consultants looking into Durham police facilities reported in late 2012 that the department was short about 43,000 square feet, comparing its current space with national averages and projecting the department’s growth out to 2030.
The consultants, Carter Goble Associates, recommended a new headquarters with a new 911 center and offices for two of Durham’s five police districts. Since 1991, headquarters has been at 505 West Chapel Hill St., in a 1959 building constructed for the Home Security Life Insurance Co. that has already required several million dollars worth of stopgap repairs.
Redeveloping Chapel Hill Street site presented particular problems, Reitzer said: the logistics of construction while police carried on regular business or the extra cost – about $3 million – of moving the department out, setting it up in temporary quarters for the duration, then moving it all back in.
A presentation for the council session ( bit.ly/1vy7zNv) shows the Main Street site as the most expensive of the three – almost $63 million, compared with $62.6 million at the current site (including temporary relocation) and $58.6 million at Fayetteville Street.
To put the police on East Main, the city will have to buy the property, raising the cost, Reitzer said. But some of that would be recouped by selling the Chapel Hill Street land and building, which are just across Gregson Street from the new 605 West apartments.
Either site, East Main or West Chapel Hill, could mix the city up in some controversy with historic preservationists.
Last spring, some historic preservationists said they opposed the city’s tearing down the Chapel Hill Street building, an example of mid-20th century modernism, designed by Milton Small, one of the area’s most prominent architects at the time.
The Carpenter Chevrolet buildings, on the other hand, made Preservation Durham’s “Places in Peril” list in 2013, due largely to the city’s interest in building a new police headquarters there.
Preservation Durham Director Wendy Hillis said the two main buildings, circa 1923 and 1948, “are solidly built masonry and steel structures that are full of character, prominently located, and in good repair. They could almost certainly be listed on the National Register, making them eligible for federal tax credits.
“The site is perfectly suited for the kind of adaptive re-use project that has revived our downtown,” Hillis said.
Adaptive re-use isn’t part of the city’s plan, though, Reitzer said.
“We are going to be intentional about documenting the history of the place and be looking at the structures in some detail,” he said. “The history needs to be documented.
“If there are features in some of those buildings that need to be re-purposed in some fashion in the new facilities, we will give consideration,” he said, “if ... there’s anything of any significance.”