The city closed its deal last week on the East Main Street property where it plans to build a new police headquarters. Closing had been planned in January, but was delayed by City Council concerns over environmental cleanup costs.
General Services Director Joel Reitzer said the purchase price, $5.49 million, includes $491,274 reserved in escrow to cover expenses estimated after consultants performed additional tests at the 4.5-acre site, formerly the Carpenter Chevrolet dealership at 600 E. Main St.
The $5.49 million also includes $200,000 for a 0.84-acre adjoining parcel at the corner of Hood and Elizabeth streets.
After the council agreed in October 2014 to buy the sites, the city hired the Terracon environmental consultants to assess them for contaminants such as asbestos and petroleum-based chemicals.
Never miss a local story.
Terracon’s assessment estimated up to $254,000 worth of cleanup would be required to get the site ready for construction but recommended more testing because the cost could run twice that amount. General Services recommended extending Terracon’s contract – a recommendation that reached the City Council one day before the sale’s scheduled closing.
By that point, the larger tract’s owner, GWC Properties, had already agreed to put $500,000 in a cleanup escrow, but council members balked at closing until there was a firmer idea of the site’s condition and how much it would take to clean it up.
“We’ve been burned before,” Councilman Eugene Brown said at the time, recalling the Southside East apartments where initial tests failed to find contaminants that contributed to a year’s construction delay and $300,000 in unforeseen remediation costs.
Terracon’s contract was extended and, after the city’s and seller’s lawyers negotiated, GWC agreed to extend the city’s purchase option for 60 days.
The extra tests checked for asbestos and sampled soil at points where there had been “hydraulic lifts, oil-water separators and the like,” and underground storage tanks.
Terracon’s revised estimate was slightly higher than its first. To that, city staff added an estimate for contamination that might come from current tenants before their leases expire, multiplied by 1.5 to provide a safety factor and added on an agent’s fee for handling the escrow account: in all, $491,274.
While the second round of tests was going on, the council chose the Durham architects O’Brien/Atkins Associates to design the new police HQ, which has a projected cost of $62.9 million and brings several operations now at separate locations – such as the downtown police district offices, forensics and 911 – under the same roof with functions now handled at the headquarters on Chapel Hill Street.
Construction is projected to start in mid-2016, with completion in early 2019.
A public ‘visioning session’ on Durham’s new police headquarters is scheduled 6 to 8 p.m. April 16 at the Durham Convention Center, 301 W. Morgan St.
The session will gather suggestions on the police buildings’ design and relation to the East Main Street corridor, adjoining neighborhoods and businesses, and future development in the area.
City Council members made clear they wanted the public to weigh in on the new headquarters’ appearance when they approved the East Main Street location last fall, and again when they approved a design contract with the Durham architects O’Brien/Atkins Associates.
Citizens as well as council members raised issues with having a new police HQ on East Main Street, citing loss of private-development potential near the planned Dillard Street light rail station and loss of space for streetfront retail development that would enliven a major corridor between downtown and East Durham.
There was also concern about a police building looming “bunker-like” along the street and sidewalk. That concern came up in the fall and again with the choice of O’Brien/Atkins, whose portfolio includes the new Durham County Courthouse and other monumental projects such as the Raleigh Convention Center, the state Environmental and Natural Resources headquarters and the Wake County Detention Center.