Urbana departments growing; space isn't

URBANA — Police officers and firefighters are working out of closets. Public works mechanics are working with their backs on the floor because they can't raise anything bigger than a pickup truck off the ground.

When one of the fire department's ladder trucks comes in for maintenance, Public Works Director Bill Gray said, the mechanics hope it's not raining because it won't fit inside.

"We're busting at the seams, and we have to look at some alternatives," Police Chief Patrick Connolly said.

For at least a decade, the city of Urbana has been running out of space. The public works garage is about 60 years old. Most city departments — including police and fire — are in the City Building, which had its last major expansion in 1997.

That can be a long time for government workers to be crammed into the same space in a city that continues to grow.

The 1997 renovation did not take care of everything, Gray said. At the time, the City Building was made fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the "woefully inadequate" police space was expanded. The community development department, which had been on Main Street, was folded back into the City Building, but the fire, finance and executive departments were not given more space.

That's a problem as fire trucks have gotten larger through the decades since the station was designed. The department has run out of dorm space, and there is no adequate indoor training area, Fire Chief Mike Dilley said. That means some of the firefighters' training has to be put on hold during the winter.

In coming months, the city could start studying all its existing building space and planning for the future. A "space needs assessment" and "existing buildings condition assessment" would help city officials get a grip on what they have.

A master plan could follow that, Gray said, and the planning process alone could take up to two years and cost $100,000 or more.

The renovations themselves, he said, would probably be in the millions of dollars, but there is no way of knowing exactly how much until the planning begins. Officials could pursue any number of options — like expanding the City Building out or up, or building new facilities — but that will depend on what recommendations come out of the planning process.

The city of Champaign has expanded its facilities since the 1997 renovation to the Urbana City Building. A new, $2.4 million fire station opened in southwest Champaign in 2006, and a half-million-dollar renovation to expand the police department's evidence room was completed in 2008.

In 2010, Champaign completed a "facilities master plan," a project which cost $40,000 when it began in 2008. The 200-page document lists the condition and future needs of each city facility, literally down to the trim.

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on April 23, 2012 at 6:04 am
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Hey, look at the bright side — Urbana is chock-full of vacant buildings.

Sid Saltfork wrote on April 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm

and statues... Don't forget the statues.  When are the roundabouts going to be built?  What about the soccer stadium?  What ever happened with the hiking trail from Urbana to Danville?  At least, the new "signage" will direct tourists to the statues, and vacant buildings. Maybe, the state can give more money?  Maybe, a federal grant can be obtained?