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Safety facility plan remains intact

City Council members won't be changing the configuration of the public safety facility, because a committee said the change couldn't be done without significant cost.

Four council members and city staff members spent four meetings and hours of research time over the last week exploring options that could have changed the designed public safety facility being built between Railroad and Larrance streets, south of East Gore Boulevard. Flintco, the contractor, has been doing the earthwork associated with the foundation of the 107,000-square-foot facility since November, after winning the $33.7 million construction contract in August.

Some council members, including new members sworn into office in January and two veteran members, had questions about the facility and wanted to explore options that could have removed Central Fire Station from the building and significantly downsized the size of the 100-bed jail, leaving only Lawton Police Department and municipal court space untouched. Some city and community officials criticized the move, but Ward 3 Councilman Caleb Davis, who suggested the study committee, said there still was time to look at the facility and the existing contract gave the city the right to renegotiate the contract.

Committee members didn't make their recommendation at the end of a meeting on Tuesday, held just hours before a special council meeting. That recommendation came at the council meeting and Davis, study committee chair, simply said the committee recommendation, made on a split vote, found the construction contract has been awarded and at this point, changes cannot be made without significant cost. He said the committee also found the city will have to add eight additional jailers to meet state staffing requirements in the new jail, but the city doesn't have the money in its budget to do that and the committee couldn't identify a potential funding source.

Davis said at Tuesday's committee meeting that its work was never about eliminating the city jail and fire station, but trying to lessen costs to recover $5 million the city had to reallocate from other projects to cover the difference in actual public safety facility costs versus the funding allocated in the 2015 Sales Tax Extension Program.

But, Davis and others have been critical of the decision by city officials to place Central Fire station in the new public safety facility when they said the election ballot specified funding to buy land and to renovate and improve the existing station in downtown Lawton. They also have questioned whether the city needs the 100-bed jail included in the public safety facility's designs. In addition, the Jan. 9 council agenda item that created the study committee specified that contract negotiations with the contractor would include "eliminating certain use(s) and associated portions of the construction...."

Committee members met a final time Tuesday to discuss the jail, asking questions that focused on a plan to eliminate the top portion of the two-floor jail. City staff estimated the change could save $2 million in construction costs.

City Engineer George Hennessee said new jail is designed in a mezzanine style, with two pods on the ground floor and two more pods on a top floor. Eliminating the top floor would leave about 50 jail cells, City Manager Jerry Ihler said, and both Ihler and Hennessee said the jail would have to be redesigned (an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 cost) to account for that change. City project engineer Billy Tramel said city staff spent the weekend crunching numbers with the project designer and contractor to evaluate changes that would include removing the jail's second floor then lowering the ceiling, and dropping the square footage of the kitchen and laundry (designed to meet the jail's long-range capacity of 300 inmates).

Tramel said while a smaller jail would save money, it wouldn't meet the committee's goal of recovering $5 million.

The Lawton Constitution

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