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About a week after county voters agreed to a 1 percent sales tax to fund its construction, Gainesville officials broke ground Wednesday on the city’s future public safety facility.
Local officials gathered at the intersection of Pine and Summit streets in the damp afternoon air to kick-start the construction of the two buildings that will replace the current police and fire facility on Jesse Jewell Parkway.
The city’s police and fire departments have long outgrown the current facility, designed 35 years ago to house 40 employees. Today, the two departments have approximately 120 employees.
“We’ve kind of outgrown our space,” said City Manager Kip Padgett.
Hall County voters approved a six-year, 1 percent sales tax — the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax — on March 17 that will pay for the $20.4 million facility along with several infrastructure projects across the county.
The city will take on bond debt to fund the construction, and repay the loans with revenue from the tax.
Without the sales tax, city property owners likely would have faced a tax increase to pay for the facility.
“We thank the voters for passing SPLOST to allow us to pay for that facility and let everybody pay their fair share,” Padgett said.
Construction on the two-building facility, which will house municipal court as well as the headquarters for police and fire officials, should be complete by June 2010.
Construction plans include a 53,000-square-foot building for the city’s police department and municipal court, and another 26,000-square-foot facility to house the fire department headquarters and serve as Fire Station No. 1.
For police department employees who have been cramped into closet offices for years, the building will be a much-needed expansion with a few perks thrown in for investigators.
The new facility will have a laboratory, four rooms specifically designated for interviewing suspects, and another interview room will be specially designed for interviewing victims of sexual assault, Police Chief Frank Hooper said.
Fire fighters will also get much needed relief from overcrowding with their new 26,000-square-foot facility, but residents might be best served by the fire station’s new location.
Traffic on Jesse Jewell creates problems for firefighters trying to get to emergencies from their current location; the new station will have easier access to and from Queen City Parkway, improving the department’s emergency response time, said Fire Chief Jon Canada.
“I think this is a great example of SPLOST, these type projects, when our governments ... partner up and when they work together these are the great things that can happen,” Hooper said.