SELMA – It’s been almost 60 years since the Selma Police Department first moved into the mission-style train depot on West Front Street. On June 21, with earth movers already digging for the new foundation, the City of Selma took a major step forward in building a new Police Station.

Selma officials ceremoniously kicked off construction that day for the new 10,175 square foot Police Station that will be built on 3rd Street, adjacent to Selma City Hall.

The new facility will include an expanded investigations center, training/community room, evidence storage, dispatch, booking, upgraded prisoner holding cells, communications center and other facilities required by Peace Officer Standards and Training.

While City and Police officials agree the station is overdue, the final price tag has been the object much debate amongst the Council and citizens. The most recent calculation has the station projected to cost $10.3 million. Council voted 3-2 in April to pull $2.8 million from the city’s ambulance service fund and $215,582 from the Measure S fund to make up for the shortfall. City officials say they will apply with the state in the meantime to see if funds can be secured that way instead.

Built in 1918, the depot-turned-police station became more cramped as the department grew. In 1978, a $238,000 federally financed expansion and remodeling was performed.

A portable building to house detective offices and a training room had been added, but the station had always been described as inadequate. Thin walls offered little privacy for interrogations, records were kept in a secured shed outside the building, the roof leaked, offices and desks had to be shared, the train tracks were just feet away creating derailment concerns, and asbestos throughout the building created genuine health and safety issues for the officers and staff.

The City is making plans to add more housing, thus the need for more space and the modernization of the police station has become more apparent in recent years.

During an open house held by the Selma Chamber in June 2016, Police Chief Greg Garner showed a collection of blueprints for remodels, expansions and new construction that had been drawn up over the decades. The passage of the $4 million Measure P bond - approved by 66.67 percent of Selma voters in November 2016 - helped make a new facility more than just a plan.

Mayor Scott Robertson said while most agreed the station was decades overdue, issues arose over the project exceeding its budgeted $8 million price tag.

“I’d been an advocate from the very start and a proponent of Measure S and living within our means to put up a police station we’ve absolutely needed,” he said after the ceremony. “The issue now is making sure it comes in on time and under budget. We need to make sure that taxpayer money is being spent well.”

At the groundbreaking, City officials, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula and Police Chief Greg Garner were celebratory about the milestone.

Arambula had secured state funding for a number of facilities projects in his district and for Selma that meant another $4 million towards the Police Station.

“As soon as I got elected to our State Assembly, I fought hard for this big check we have here. “I’m proud to not only deliver this check, but that this checked cleared,” he said garnering much applause from the audience.

Arambula said he repeatedly heard from the officers that they were struggling to be effective in the outdated facility.

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“[They said] that their facilities were not standard, that they were falling behind in a crumbling infrastructure and that we needed to invest state resources back into our communities.”

Robertson agreed that “it’s time to properly house the Police Department in a station that can accommodate a larger group of officers and support staff with modern equipment in a toxin-free environment that allows officers to focus on their mission, which is to serve and protect the citizens of Selma.”

Measure P Committee Chair Dr. Stan Louie credited a number of citizens for spearheading the effort it took to pass that bond.

“They weren’t elected, but they appointed themselves to be proud of getting funds to create a brand-new police station, which we hope to see here soon. All these people stepped up to the plate.”

Gallavan called the new station as a significant investment in the community and police department.

“We’ve reached an important benchmark in the journey to build a new police department. It truly takes a village to make this happen,” she said thanking Arambula, Measure P bond supporters and City Council for “having the vision to move us forward.”

Thanking the community for supporting the local police and staff, Garner ended the event by sharing a favorite quote.

“The Lord can move mountains, but don’t forget to bring your shovels. What that means to me is I think it’s appropriate for us to expect divine intervention in our project, but we are to participate as well. We have to get involved as well and make this a joint effort.”

The general contractor on the project is Katch Environmental and the project managers are Vanir Construction Management.

To answer residents’ urging for more officers to fill the new station, Mayor Robertson added that Council did just recently approve the City’s annual budget which includes funding for two more patrol officers and one administrative officer. Also funds were allotted to hire another code enforcement officer as well.

“The two on patrol will allow the City to do much more focusing on problem properties,” he said as most of the public safety phone calls he receives focus on particular properties “that are the source of many, many, many problems and calls.”

Selma’s Police should then be able to focus on those problem areas “to make neighborhoods nice to live in. People deserve a right to live in peace and quiet without feeling scared. So this year in the budget, we expanded services to the citizens. That’s what this is about, being part of the solution.”

As far as the station’s cost, Robertson said he too is concerned that the station stays within budget and encourages residents to attend Measure P Committee and Council meetings as police station expenditures are approved.

“I’m an advocate for the citizens and keeping projects within budget. Now we need to move forward and make sure this police station goes up, and the same people such as myself who had a problem with this going $3 million over budget or more, should focus our efforts on how the construction goes now.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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