TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. – City and county government came together for a rare joint meeting on Wednesday to consider co-locating the Ithaca Police Department and Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office at 100 Commercial Avenue along Route 13 in Southwest Ithaca.
Ithaca’s Common Council and the Tompkins County Legislature commissioned a preliminary study last fall to identify locations that might be suitable for both the police department and the sheriff’s office, as both of their facilities are in need of renovation or replacement. A consulting team winnowed down 13 potential sites to arrive at the preferred Commercial Avenue location, citing its good vehicular access, location amidst commercial and industrial properties, and the availability of adjacent land to develop.
Following Wednesday’s meeting, the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee and the county’s Public Safety Committee meeting will consider a resolution to commission a second, more in-depth study evaluating the feasibility of the joint location for the two law enforcement agencies. Co-location would be a complex, expensive undertaking, and both city and county representatives emphasized the need for careful research before committing to the collaboration.
What would co-location look like?
Co-location does not mean merging law enforcement operations. If the IPD and the sheriff’s office were to build facilities on a shared site, each would maintain fully independent staff and have largely independent space.
Sketches from the consulting group that completed the preliminary site study – a team led by Kingsbury Architecture with Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, T.G. Miller, PC Engineers and Land Surveyors and Charles R. Wilson Engineering – show IPD and the sheriff’s office using mostly separate buildings. While the sketches are merely meant to illustrate how each agency’s space needs could be met with the site’s acreage, they reflect findings from two separate space use studies.
According to the consultants, the co-located facilities would require a total of 51,130 square feet of space. Of that, about 33,000, or 65% would be for the IPD; 10,000, or 20%, would be for the sheriff’s office; and 7,000, or 15%, would be shared by both agencies.
While that breakdown is preliminary, some city and county representatives were skeptical about the benefits of pursuing the joint project when only a fraction of space would be shared. Alderperson Cynthia Brock, for instance, said in her view, “7,000 square feet is not enough to drive this process.”
Others stressed that proximity could bring concrete and intangible benefits to the departments, though. The IPD and the sheriff’s office already have some joint operations, like the SWAT team and Crisis Incident Negotiation Team. Legislator Rich John said co-location would make existing collaborations more efficient and could foster unforeseen partnerships.
“Not only could it save us money, it could actually improve our public safety in ways we can’t necessarily understand today,” John said.
Leaders from each agency said they are open to the possibility of new collaborations, though Sheriff Derek Osborne raised concerns about how the relocating the sheriff’s office’s road patrol and civil divisions would impact his department.
Deputy Chief Dennis Nayor said IPD welcomes the idea of co-location. “We have no objections to a shared facility,” Nayor said. “We all work together on the same mission.”
Along with Deputy Chief Vincent Monticello, Nayor said a centralized facility for booking and holding people who are arrested would help ensure officers are on the road rather than supervising suspects, thereby benefiting the city.
Osborne said a shared, central location could benefit his office too but would come with drawbacks, including greater distance from calls for service in Dryden and Lansing. The question of what to do with the county jail is a major concern for Osborne and county officials, too.
“Our corrections facility is not where it needs to be,” Osborne said, citing its antiquated design and aging mechanical systems. “The true benefit (of co-location) for the county and the sheriff’s office might be creating jail space that allows for central booking,” he said, cautioning that if the jail cannot be relocated to Commercial Ave then the project might not be worth it.
Neither the preliminary consulting study nor the feasibility study proposed Wednesday evaluate whether the county jail should be upgraded or relocated. The county has already commissioned an engineering study to assess the costs of upgrading the jail facility, which will proceed whether or not the colocation feasibility study moves forward.
Kim Michaels, who spoke on behalf of the consulting group as a principal at TWMLA, said the Commercial Avenue site is adjacent to a lot that would be suitable for relocating the sheriff’s corrections division. While the jail was not formally part of their study, Michaels said it seemed responsible “to choose a site that had potential, to not preclude anything. If the government is going to choose to make this expenditure, it should have flexibility for future decisions,” she said.
City and county representatives did not vote on the resolution to commission a feasibility study on Wednesday but rather agreed to send the resolution to the PEDC and Public Safety Committee. Each committee will have a chance to pass the resolution on to Common Council and the County Legislature respectively, and members of the public will have a chance to weigh in at each step in the process.
If the study moves forward, consultants will take a closer look at construction options on Commercial Avenue, which could include renovating the existing retail-warehouse and adding new buildings or leveling the existing structure and building from the ground up. The preliminary study estimated construction costs at anywhere from $19.2 million to $24 million, but those estimates do not include the cost of acquiring the property, demolishing the existing building, or building to the security standards of essential public safety facilities. The county administrator and city attorney expect state grants would help defray the costs.
The resolution to proceed with research is due to reach the PEDC and Public Safety Committees in June.
Featured image: The existing warehouse-retail building at 100 Commercial Ave. (From consultant’s report)