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Firm recommends community-based approach to proposal of Fremont joint law center

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JLEC

Prochaska and Associates updated the Fremont City Council and Dodge County Board of Supervisors on its September 2021 study on the creation of a Joint Law Enforcement Center at a special meeting Tuesday.

Whether it’s remodeling the Fremont Police Department and Dodge County Sheriff’s Office’s facilities or creating a joint center, Curt Field said the entire community must be involved.

“You need to have public buy-in, because you don’t want them disgruntled by the decisions that you make,” he told the Fremont City Council and Dodge County Board of Supervisors.

Field, a principal at Prochaska and Associates, updated the city council and county board with a study conducted by the firm on the potential for a Joint Law Enforcement Center at a special meeting Tuesday.

With both the FPD and DCSO facilities facing issues with their existing facilities, the proposition for a JLEC came years ago before plans started in early 2020.

Although the bond issue was brought before the ballot in November 2020, the vote failed, with only 46.9% of voters in the county in favor of using property taxes to pay for the center.

Initially founded in 1983, Prochaska is an Omaha-based firm that provides both architectural and engineering services.

“We think that has pretty significant benefits to our clients because it allows us to be cross-trained and allows us to get to know a lot about the other person’s business,” Field said.

Prochaska has worked with Fremont since 2012, when it began work on a study on the renovation of the FPD building that was published in October 2014.

The firm also conducted an updated study in May 2017 and an initial study on the creation of a JLEC in March 2018.

For the new study, published on Sept. 4, 2021, Field said Prochaska used its previous study on the FPD station and conducted a new one on the DCSO facility at the Dodge County Courthouse.

For the police station, Prochaska provided a proposed layout that would add the DCSO’s facility to the north, along with an 100-bed jail.

“It seemed to me that any direction you go you would be purchasing property,” he said. “And the need for the various functions to interact with each other made it seem as though the closer the contacts, the better.”

As the new addition would make the building 70 feet high, Field said a waiver would have to be granted due to the limitation of 60 feet.

For the sheriff’s office, Field said Prochaska decided not to recommend building out into the lawn in front and proposed again building to the north.

But with this approach, Field said businesses on that side of the block would have to be relocated.

At the request of the city, Prochaska also looked at building at the Fremont Technology Park, which Field said didn’t have the limitations of the other two locations.

Field also provided the council and board with a design for an optional 192-bed jail, as he said the county would most likely need more space for inmates.

With the provided options, Field provided the following prices:

  • Standalone renovations for FPD (2014 study): Budgeted cost of $10,409,732 and bond cost of $13,012,165
  • Standalone renovations for FPD (current study): Budgeted cost of $11,978,878 and bond cost of $14,973,598
  • Standalone renovations for DCSO: Budgeted cost of $19,535,913 and bond cost of $24,644,570
  • Joint-use facility at FPD property: Budgeted cost of $26,196,586 and bond cost of $34,544,468
  • Joint-use facility at DCSO property: Budgeted cost of $23,972,660 and bond cost of $31,331,031
  • Joint-use facility at Tech Park: Budgeted cost of $30,890,845 and bond cost of $37,911,491

In allowing the city and county to decide which option to pursue, Field said they need to look at several factors, including what would be best for each department.

“Each building that they operate now requires maintenance and upgrade attention,” he said. “So if you’re going to do anything at any one of those sites, you’d want to factor in some kind of cost for that.”

If the facilities were to be updated, Field said it would have to be ensured that the agencies remain operational.

“We’ve done this for a number of cases and know that they’re likely to be a little irritated, but it can be done if you take pains to isolate the existing building from the new,” he said.

Additionally, Field said the city and county also needed to decide what would be best for the surrounding neighborhood.

“If you’re a city planner, clearly you are interested in the vitality of the neighborhood,” he said. “You don’t want to see something that you’ve worked at to try to build that finally attracted businesses suffer somehow because you are building the wrong thing there.”

Field said there would also have to be plans in place for determining the future use of a facility if it is left abandoned.

“Vacating a facility and leaving it there with no plan for its future is the wrong thing to do for the vitality of the neighborhood,” he said.

Finally, Field said the city and county should look at what option would be least expensive, as he said separate remodels and expansions would cost more than constructing a single building.

With the agencies having to house inmates in Saunders County, Field said they should also focus on the full cost of transport and boarding into the equation.

“You need to understand if you do this, you’d stop paying for your transport and your outboarding,” he said. “So that cost, whatever it is, goes away.”

Field encouraged a community-based planning approach by establishing a citizens committee consisting of highly credible members who are representative of the average taxpayer.

“It’s a good way to accomplish something, as the citizens committee quite often times are your best spokespeople,” he said.

The committee would evaluate the JLEC in all of the options and whether it would be better to construct it, Field said.

“You involve the citizens committee in everything, and the citizens committee, if you are doing it right, unanimously makes recommendations to you folks and the county board,” he said.

Additionally, Field recommended using traditional and social media marketing methods to raise awareness and creating an active campaign for the voting in favor of a bond issue.

The citizens committee could also give tours of the existing facilities to spread awareness, Field said, while community focus groups would give the public a full understanding of future expenses.

When using this approach, Field said Prochaska has seen a 91% bond passage rate.

Most importantly, Field said the city and county need to depict the issue as properly maintaining community infrastructure and fighting for the safety of law enforcement.

“In a bond campaign, that works. These are our first responders,” he said. “These people take care of us.”

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