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The City of St. Helens will host an in-person community meeting Tuesday, April 6, to review the proposal to build a new public safety facility building.

Public Safety Facility Review

The current St. Helens Police station, left, and a conceptual drawing on the right of what the new public safety facility could look like.

The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the St. Helens Middle School, 354 N. 15th Street.

Due to COVID-19 safety guidelines, the meeting is limited to 45 attendees. Registration is required to attend. To register, visit the city’s website at www.sthelensoregon.gov/administration/page/community-engagement-events.

Due to the attendance limits, city officials ask community members to prioritize registration for St. Helens residents and business owners. Social distance guidelines will be observed, and attendees must wear a mask.

History timeline

In earlier published reports, The Chronicle detailed specific details about the need for the new facility and the cost.

The department employs 23 staff members in the 2,200 square foot building constructed in 1971. The proposed public safety facility would expand to 22,000 square feet and include space for the municipal court, city council chamber and a community room.

In February, following a review of land for the project, the St. Helens City Council selected property at the intersection at Kaster Road and Old Portland Road for the site of the new facility.

The city also established a 21-member ad hoc committee which began meeting in October to review the proposed project and how it could be funded. Options include general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, full faith and credit bonds. Another option is a residential and businesses utility fee, which cities such as Oregon City, Medford and Gresham have used for such projects.

The city council accepted the committee’s recommendations in late January. The recommendations include carving out time to engage with the community on facility plans, creating a public safety fund, increasing funding for utility assistance programs, selling the current station and continuing to seek grants and outside funding opportunities. 

The city hasn’t put an official price tag on the building, but the architecture firm working on estimates expects it to be between $15 and $19 million, according the project website. Funding for the facility may come from the public safety fund which could tack on a monthly fee to utility bills ranging between $6-$11.

A public safety fund was recommended as a more equitable option of spreading the cost of the facility, according to the ad hoc committee.

The proposed facility, 10-times larger than the current police station, is based on anticipated growth of St. Helens, though the city has not released specific growth estimates. The idea is to accommodate future needs and make an investment of the building.

“The longer we wait now, it will just exponentially go up in cost,” St. Helens Police Sergeant Jose Castilleja said. “We want to best utilize the monies we have now.”

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the percent change in population of St. Helens in the decade from 2010 to 2019 saw a 5.2% rise, from 12,883 to an estimated 13,739. However, those numbers stray from the estimates the city used, which are population forecasts from the Population Research Center at Portland State University used to estimate growth.

The Population Research Center estimates that there were 15,503 residents in St. Helens in July 2020. By 2025, the forecast says there will be 16,338 and by 2035, there will be 18,354. By 2045, the population is forecasted at 20,246. Growth of 5% to 6% is expected every five years in the city, according to the population forecast.

What will be discussed

The April 6 meeting is an opportunity for the community to hear from city staff and St. Helens police officers about the public safety facility proposal and for the community to ask questions and provide feedback, according to a release from the city.

City officials said the station today does not meet operational standards for policing best practices which excludes St. Helens from becoming an accredited police department. The building is not American Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible, does not meet basic energy efficiency or seismic standards, and can no longer accommodate the large amount of digital data that officers now work with.

“Of particular concern is the fact that there are no private interview spaces for those in crisis, no dedicated briefing space for officers, and no area for officer training,” the city release states. “Senior administrative staff currently work out of a temporary trailer with no restrooms or running water, and the main station has no decontamination area and only enough space for a unisex changing room.”

City officials said the new public safety facility will be home to the St. Helens Police Department and St. Helens Municipal Court, in addition to providing community meeting room space and will serve as a backup location for emergency response.

Be engaged

To learn more about the St. Helens Public Safety Facility project and register for the public meeting, visit the city’s website at www.sthelensoregon.gov/administration/page/public-safety-facility.

See a series of focus articles concerning the St. Helens Police Department attached to this article.

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