Some on City Council anxious about pace of Casper Business Center design process; full usage plan set

The Casper City Council authorized the purchase of the Casper Business Center during a special meeting in late April. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — The City of Casper bought the Casper Business Center for $8 million this spring, with plans for the building to eventually become the home of police headquarters and other city services.

In May, the City Council approved a contract for up to $2,061,978 with Police Facility Design Group for the Kansas City–based architectural firm to begin design work for renovation of the building’s interior. Before the design work can advance, however, the firm needs clear direction about the city’s full plans for use of the space, City Manager Carter Napier told the City Council on Tuesday.

While most of the building will be occupied by the Casper Police Department, the full usage plan includes eventually moving the Public Safety Communications Center, Municipal Court, Fire-EMS administration and Informational Technology into the Casper Business Center as well, Napier said.

Much of that has been part of the city’s plan since the purchase was announced in April, but IT is a more recent part of the mix. Moving IT into the Casper Business Center makes sense given that it works closely with the Police Department and dispatch, according to Napier.

Moving IT would also have the advantage of freeing up space and thereby reducing some of the renovation needs at City Hall, the city manager added. The city has $2.6 million set aside for renovations at City Hall, a facility built in 1978, but the City Council decided this spring to hold off on the project after bids from five construction companies all came back at costs north of $6 million.

Training space for both police and firefighters is expected to be part of the Casper Business Center’s design, Napier said.

Councilmember Lisa Engebretsen asked whether there were still plans to move Code Enforcement to the Casper Business Center. This idea was explored, but with Code Enforcement working closely with Community Development, it will remain in City Hall, Napier replied.

Councilmember Bruce Knell asked about moving the City Attorney’s Office into the Casper Business Center. While space will be included for both prosecution and public defenders in the Casper Business Center, the City Attorney’s Office does a lot of work with the City Manager’s Office and Community Development, according to Deputy City Attorney Wallace Trembath.

When Councilmember Jai-Ayla Southerland asked if there were any other services staff had considered moving into the Casper Business Center, Napier responded that some thought had been given to moving all services that frequently interact with the public due to ample parking at the Casper Business Center . However, it was decided this was unlikely to help lead to substantial savings on the City Hall remodel and might not result in providing services to the public, Napier said.

Plans for the Casper Business Center also take into account anticipated space needs as the Police Department, Municipal Court and IT grow into the future:

(City of Casper)

Councilmember Amber Pollock asked whether future space needs were projected based on anticipated population growth or if there were other factors. Population growth was a factor in addition to things like industry standards, Napier said.

Police Facility Design Group conducted a needs assessment for the Casper Police Department in 2018 to help determine space needs. Police Chief Keith McPheeters said that one of the things that may lead to need for more Police Department space in the future is the rise of digital crime. While the department has one person assigned to digital crime, this is not expected to be adequate by 2030, McPheeters said.

Renovation of the building won’t immediately include reconstructing space for offices not yet needed, according to Napier.

Whatever services move into the Casper Business Center, Knell said he thinks it is crucial the mix includes dispatch in addition to the Police Department, “because that’s what we sold to the public.”

The process to get designs complete and approved before construction begins could take up to a year, Napier said during Tuesday’s work session.

Knell asked if there is any way that timeline could be expedited.

“Any chance we can move a little quicker?” he asked. “Why do we have to wait a year for design?”

One year is a conservative estimate, as Police Facility Design Group has communicated design work may be complete in six to eight months, Napier said.

Knell said his concern is the slower the design process takes, the higher the construction costs the city could face given inflation. Napier said he shares such concerns.

Councilmember Steve Catey, who served along with Knell on a committee working to find a solution for a new police headquarters, reminded Knell that an architect informed the committee about the bidding and design process. Cathy said his understanding was the project could take up to three years for construction to get finished. If there are ways to expedite the process, Cathy said he, too, would like to see them happen.

Knell said his understanding was the entire process would take two and a half years at the most.

“Anyway, it is what it is,” he said.

The City Council indicated its approval with the city’s full usage plan for the Casper Business Center on Tuesday, which should allow design work to advance. Actual design of the space is likely to see some adjustments from what the city is proposing due to the complexity of the project, a memo from city staff states. That memo includes further details on what the city is proposing.