MISSOULA - As the city and county move closer to taking possession of the old federal building in downtown Missoula, questions over the Missoula Police Department’s future location linger, as does the future of City Hall.
To help answer those questions, members of the City Council on Wednesday authorized the mayor to contract with A&E Design to complete a facilities plan for MPD that assesses potential sites, designs and the department’s future needs.
MPD Chief Jaeson White said the department currently operates from two locations, with administrative functions located downtown at City Hall while detective, patrol and evidence are located at a relatively new but small facility on Catlin Street.
“We’ve outgrown both facilities,” White said. “We’re constantly finding innovative ways to shove people into offices to do their work. As we continue to grow, it has become more and more of a burden.”
The City Council last year included around $100,000 in the FY ’22 budget to fund the study. The contract with A&E won’t exceed $95,000 and will include Architects Design Group, which specializes in studying, planning and locating law enforcement facilities.
“In order for us to make informed decisions in the future, we need to have a space-needs survey completed that would give us all the information we need,” White said. “We need to figure out what we need now and contemplate future growth, so the next move the city makes regarding where the police department is housed has legs and can last a while.”
Barring any last-minute hurdles, the city and county of Missoula are likely to acquire the downtown federal building under the National Parks Service’s Good Neighbor Program. Once renovations are completed, the facility would house both city and county government, creating something of a one-stop-shop of public services.
It would also free up the county’s downtown administrative building and City Hall. The city and county could then consider selling the two properties for redevelopment.
For the city, however, it would have to relocate the police department to another location.
“We knew we needed to look very closely at MPD’s physical plant needs, but the project has taken on urgency with the upcoming acquisition of the federal building,” said John Adams, the city’s facilities manager. “During due diligence on the federal building, we looked really hard at locating the police department there, but it just doesn’t work.”
Placing the department in the federal building with the rest of local government had several issues including the layout of the old building and the spatial needs for the department’s vehicle fleet.
Adams said the planning study will help determine if City Hall is adequate for the department’s needs in future years, or if it could serve a higher purpose if sold and redeveloped.
“We’ll move everyone out of City Hall except MPD, and we’ll have to make a decision on what we want to do with that property,” Adams said. “Part of determining what we do with City Hall is determining if MPD can be there or elsewhere.”