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City looking at potential police, city hall upgrades

By Lisa Brody


While still in the conceptual stages, the city of Birmingham is preparing itself for potential upgrades to the physical structure of the police department and city hall due to security and safety concerns for employees, prisoners being transferred and the public, improvements that will require the city to ask voters to approve a bond for the work, although city officials are currently uncertain about the timeline and the amount.


At the Birmingham City Commission long-range planning meeting on Saturday, January 21, police chief Scott Grewe explained that at last year's long-range planning meeting, the police department first introduced the idea that they were reviewing the existing police department due to several safety and security needs that were brought to their attention during the police department accreditation assessment program with the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police (MACP). The Birmingham Police Department first began their assessment process in April 2021. Accreditation is valid for a three-year period during which time the agency must submit annual reports attesting to their continued compliance with those standards under which it was initially accredited.


“There were a number of things that came to light during the assessment period,” Grewe said, “and if we want to be reaccredited, we need to address the concerns and have plans in place.”


Among the concerns noted by MACP were that the department does not have a Sally Port, or locked garage or secured environment to transport a prisoner.


“Officers park patrol cars in the open courtyard, remove their weapon and place it in a secure area of the vehicle. The officer then removes the defendant from the vehicle in full public view, escorts the defendant across the parking lot with the defendant in handcuffs, and walks up a ramp to the booking room door, where a dispatcher is contacted. The officer is then granted access to the building through an electronic door. This entire area is open to the public,” Grewe noted.


In addition, the adult holding cells are on the ground floor next to the clerical area, and a prisoner must be moved through public areas of city hall. Police administrative offices are on the mail floor of city hall, and other than locking the doors, there are no physical security measures to restrict access by the public.


“The last time any work was done on the police department or city hall was 30 years ago,” Grewe said. As they began the accreditation process, simultaneously there was the COVID pandemic, “and we became aware of how open our city hall is. It brought to light that city hall needs an interior design update for employee and public safety.”


Assistant city manager Jana Ecker emphasized that while a renovation and expansion is possible, “It's just in the conceptual discussion at this point. There is no time line at this point. There is no estimate for any costs. And it's a historic property – there's absolutely no thought of getting rid of city hall.”


City hall does require ADA-access to be improved, to restrict some entrance and exit points, and improvements are needed to enhance safety and security within the current structure of the building as it relates to workspaces and common areas, officials say.


A request for proposal (RFP) for conceptual architectural renderings was approved by the city commission in July 2022, and Birmingham entered into a contract with Telluris Architecture to complete an assessment of the existing building and develop conceptual designs for renovations and possible expansion. According to Grewe, Telluris is expected to deliver a completed conceptual design with renderings by the first week of February. These conceptual expansion designs will then go before the historic district commission, planning board, and city commission. After the city commission approves a conceptual plan, the next steps will include completing a RFP for an architect to complete the final construction drawings. After completing these architectural drawings, the city will create another RFP for construction services utilizing the drawings from the previous RFP for the renovations/expansion project.


In order to fund the project, the city will require a bond approved by voters. The earliest voters could be asked to approve a bond for the project is November 2023, but Ecker said she thought that may be too early considering “It's just in the conceptual stage. There is no time line at this point. I don't even have a date that it would come to the commission.” A November 2024 bond approval vote is more likely, she intimated.


“It's way too soon to know,” Grewe concurred.

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