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Discussions about a new facility to house the St. Helens Police Department were advanced today at the St. Helens City Council work session.

Possible Public Safety Facility

This is a conceptual drawing of what the new St. Helens public safety facility might look like.

An ad hoc committee formed of community members and local leaders presented recommendations to the city council concerning the proposed new public safety facility.

In the recommendations, the committee urged the council to include a robust community engagement period to solicit public feedback before moving forward.

The design for the facility includes space for city council meetings, municipal court rooms and police areas. It also includes a panic room of sorts that residents in danger can access if they are being followed and push a button to securely lock themselves in the room at any time of the day or night.

Ad hoc committee member and Columbia County Port Commissioner Chris Iverson said the need for an expanded building was clear, and that the project engineers recommended a building 10 times the size of the current police station.

“If that doesn’t say there’s a need for this facility, I don’t know what does,” he said.

The staff- and committee-recommended site for the new facility is located at the corner of Old Portland and Kaster roads due to its access to Highway 30 and room for expansion.

“It just made the most sense out of every site that was identified,” Iverson said. The committee considered 10 potential site locations around the city.

The current police station is located on South 13th Street in St. Helens, in a 2,200 square foot facility that was built 48 years ago. Committee members and community leaders said the police department has outgrown the building. The proposed new facility size would be approximately 22,000 square feet.

Funding for the facility could come from one of two sources: a general obligation bond supported by property taxes or a public safety fund.

“It’s never an easy issue when you’re asking people for more money,” Iverson said, adding that sooner or later an expanded facility would be needed to meet the needs of the community.

The ad hoc committee recommended the public safety fund to spread the share of the cost more equitably to residents. Matt Brown, city finance director, said this option would also ease the individual contributions depending on how large the city grows and expands in the future. It would also allow the city more flexibility on how to use the money, he said.

“I’m not asking you to make a decision today, we just wanted to lay out some of the groundwork,” Brown said.

The presentation to the city council was informative and no decisions were made. Another discussion about the facility will take place at the Jan. 20 council meeting.

Follow this developing story here online and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.

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