City officials stood up at Harrison City Council committee meetings last week and presented reasons a new public safety building is needed. And they announced that an architectural firm has been selected to design the facility that will house elements of the Harrison Police Department and the Harrison Fire Department.
Public Works director Wade Phillips said a process is under way to construct a new police headquarters and a new central fire station. A qualification-based selection process was completed to choose an architect for the project. Initially 13 architects submitted responses to an advertisement. They were narrowed down to a group that was interviewed. Selected, finally, was the firm of Wittenberg Delony and Davidson (WD&D) of Little Rock. The next phase will be conducting a scoping meeting for the project on what it will include, then negotiating a contract.
Since the city was unable to obtain the Durand Center for a new city hall, Phillips explained, discussions will be held to relocate other city hall offices to the public safety building. That financing would have to come from a separate source. The public service building would be paid for with an existing sales tax dedicated to public safety for facilities and equipment.
Police Chief Chris Graddy said voters approved the public safety tax for this purpose five years ago. He said the department's equipment is up today, but "we are still in a 1952 model building. When I went to work here in 1987, we were in the same square footage we are today. We've at least doubled in size if not tripled in employees. We are crammed into the same square footage."
He showed photos of a conference room that is also used as a storage room, five detectives’ offices that are either the size of a closet or are similarly crammed with equipment and paperwork. A trailer is parked behind City Hall to store files, he said. Another office is being shared by six other officers. There is only one holding facility that can be used to hold an individual for only two hours according to state jail standards. The evidence room is dark, dingy, and not climate controlled.
He said both officers' and the public's security and safety are in peril. Other law enforcement facilities have a secure area to intake prisoners into the department for booking and processing.
"We take our prisoners out in a back alley. We've fought in that back alley, we chased in that back alley and if anybody wanted to ambush us it would be easy to do in that back alley," Graddy said.
Fire Chief Marc Lowery noted some history about the building and its scars. City Hall was heavily damaged by the 1979 gas explosion that destroyed the Alltel Telephone Company building where Windstream is located today. He showed photos of cracks in the walls and floors that were created as a result of that event, He also showed where several bolts are located on the front of the station that are holding the building together.