The Durham City Council approved a charcoal brick and terracotta metal design for a new police headquarters Thursday, though at least one member still thinks it’s going in the wrong place.
The East Main Street site was controversial when the council picked it in September. In order to build there, the city will have to demolish the Carpenter Motor Co. building, a structure some said should be preserved and put to new use.
The location also straddles a resurgent downtown and East Durham.
“It’s a transitional part of town,” said Kevin Montgomery, president of the architecture firm O’Brien/Atkins.
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“There was a lot of concern initially about whether the building would be a bunker or fortress and not be able to engage itself with the community,” Montgomery said. “We’ve worked hard not to present that image to the city.”
Both the approved design and a more contemporary option featured large glass atriums on the corner serving as the main public entrances. Montgomery said the atrium was a “symbolic gesture about openness.”
He said the designers tried to strike a balance between safety and aesthetic concerns. “We want a building that is safe and secure, but not a fortress,” he said.
The cost of the police headquarters, initially estimated at $62.4 million, had risen to $80.9 million as of last fall, though eliminating some parts of the project could save as much as $9.6 million.
On Thursday, Mayor Bill Bell asked about differences in maintenance costs between the firm’s two designs, noting the large amount of glass in both options.
“Glass looks pretty but somebody has to clean it,” he said.
Montgomery said option A, the one the council eventually chose, had less glass.
One by one, each council member voted on their preferred design.
Councilman Eddie Davis said option A “fit into the neighborhood a little bit better.” Councilwoman Jillian Johnson agreed.
Councilman Steve Schewel voted on A as well, although with a caveat. “My judgment on these things is not great, so I’m glad it’s confirmed by Eddie and Jillian,” he joked.
Said Councilman Don Moffitt: “I resisted this site — I still think it’s in the wrong place — but you can’t do anything about that now. You’re working with what you have.
“I think, generally speaking, you’ve done a great job of putting a building into the site that has a lot of interesting characteristics going on,” Moffitt said. He specifically complemented the entrance and the decision not to install bollards, or short posts designed to keep vehicles out.
The time line is not yet set in stone, but construction could begin this fall or next winter and be completed in the summer of 2018.