The architects who designed the county’s new courthouse are going to design the city’s new police headquarters on East Main Street, if the City Council approves the $4.88 million contract Monday night.
Approval is likely, judging by discussion at last week’s council work session. One member, though, had some reservations about the Durham firm of O’Brien/Atkins Associates for the projected $63 million headquarters on East Main Street.
“What we’re going to do here is going to have a tremendous impact on shaping East Durham and the way people feel about moving up and down Main Street,” said Councilman Don Moffitt, who has a degree in architecture from the University of Texas.
“It needs to be street friendly, pedestrian friendly, and I hope to goodness O’Brien/Atkins can deliver a project that will be along those lines,” he said.
In a memo to council members, city General Services Director Joel Reitzer mentioned O’Brien/Atkins’ “recent success with the Durham County Courthouse project, and ... experience with similar public safety building types” as important factors in the firm’s selection.
Besides the Durham County Courthouse, O’Brien/Atkins’s portfolio ( nando.com/portfolio) includes the Raleigh Convention Center, the Biogen Idec building in the Research Triangle Park and N.C. National Guard headquarters.
“We’ve got a great design firm for a lot of different things,” Moffitt said, but, looking at the portfolio, “I didn’t see anything in there where I said, ‘That’s the kind of – the sense or feel that I want.’ ”
Moffitt used the county’s Health and Human Services building (not an O’Brien/Atkins design) as an example of what he does not want.
“It’s a beautiful building, the county did a great job, but it’s a monument,” he said. “Walking in there – it’s a sense of being dwarfed by the building.
“My own personal sense from my own training and background, is that a monumental building (for police headquarters) would be a mistake,” he said.
Moffitt‘s concerns echoed those raised last fall when city administrators made the 600 block of East Main Street their preferred site for a new police HQ.
With East Main a primary connector between the revived downtown and depressed areas to the east the city has long hoped to see revitalized, citizens and council members said frontage needed to be lively and inviting for pedestrians. Some worried that the scale of a police headquarters might overwhelm the sidewalk and street, if not suggest a forbidding bunker.
“I think we’ve got a good architect, and I feel like they’ve got a big challenge on their hands,” said Councilman Steve Schewel. “Police stations need lots of security ... everything down to the parking.
“It’s going to be very difficult to both provide the kind of security and solidity, if you will, that you need with a police station, along with a pedestrian-friendly front that I think we all want on Main Street.”
Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, though, had warm words for O’Brien/Atkins.
“They are part of Durham, they know Durham and they understand what we are looking for,” Cole-McFadden said. “They give back to the Durham community. They’ve done outstanding work throughout this country.
“I have no, no reservations. Just based on his knowledge of Durham, his knowledge of East Durham, his knowledge of architecture. ... He knows what he’s doing,” she said.
Moffitt asked Reitzer about a public design charette “to talk about how everything would relate together,” which the council said it wanted when it approved the East Main Street site.
“That is definite,” Reitzer said, though a date is not set.
“It’s good to have public input but ... I also feel like I should send up a flag of caution,” Councilman Eugene Brown said. “That is the old saying that ‘A camel is something that was created by too many committees.’
“We need to be cautious here. It’s one thing to get ideas from the public, which obviously we should do,” he said. “But whatever we receive is not written in stone and I would prefer to leave that to our staff and to O’Brien/Atkins.”