When Dan Jewell saw the proposed designs for the new police headquarters, he was “pleasantly surprised.”
Jewell, president of Durham Area Designers, got a peak at the plans a week before they were presented at Thursday’s City Council work session.
He was so impressed with the architects’ responsiveness to the group’s concerns that he sent a letter of support to the mayor and the council.
“It was clear to us that the architects listened,” he said in an interview. “They incorporated most of the big-picture planning ideas that we thought needed to be incorporated.”
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In the letter, Durham Area Designers stated its “strong preference” for the first of two designs proposed Thursday. The group said the first option was “more open and less defensive feeling and more appropriate to downtown Durham.”
The council agreed. It approved the traditional, charcoal brick and terracotta metal design over the more contemporary alternative.
“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,” said Kevin Montgomery, president of the architecture firm O’Brien/Atkins. “We’ve worked hard not to present that image to the city.”
Both design options featured large glass atriums on the corner serving as the main public entrances. Montgomery said the atrium was a “symbolic gesture about openness.”
The designers tried to strike a balance between safety and aesthetic concerns, he continued. “We want a building that is safe and secure, but not a fortress,” he said.
‘The wrong site’
But not everyone was satisfied with the new design.
“This is the wrong site,” said Ben Filippo, executive director of Preservation Durham.
The East Main Street site was controversial when the council picked it in September. To build there, the city will demolish the Carpenter Motor Co. building, a structure Filippo believes should be preserved and put to new use.
The location also straddles a resurgent downtown and East Durham.
“There is a major need for an engaged connectivity between these neighborhoods and the center of economic activity, and to place another large municipal building, particularly a police station, without any retail, light industrial, or job-creation potential of any kind, is very disappointing,” Filippo said.
“The design does not allow for functional, regular foot traffic, particularly after 5 p.m.,” Filippo said. “We see this as a major design flaw.”
The cost of the police headquarters, initially estimated at $62.4 million, had risen to $80.9 million as of last fall, though reductions in the building size are expected to save $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.