The La Crosse Police Department got the go-ahead Thursday to move forward with designing a $1 million secure parking lot at La Crosse City Hall.
The city’s Finance and Personnel Committee unanimously approved a $79,446 design agreement with HSR Associates of La Crosse to design a secure parking lot expansion off the police department, which sits on the south end of City Hall at 400 La Crosse St.
The need for new parking for police officers was spurred by the redevelopment of the former La Crosse County Administrative Center, now a housing development called Hub on Sixth, next door, according to La Crosse Police Chief Ron Tischer.
“We need security back there. Right now, basically, anyone and everyone drives through our back parking lot,” Tischer said. “It’s not safe for the officers who do their reports in their squad cars or it’s really unsafe when we’re bringing in confidential informants or victims.”
The department initially planned a fence, but that plan was complicated by the fact that the lot line on that side of city hall runs down the middle of the parking lot, meaning a number of the spaces belong to the Hub on Sixth.
“It really took away a lot of our parking and our ability to park our squads back there in a secure area,” Tischer said.
Preliminary plans call for an expansion into the west courtyard on the Fourth Street side of the building, adding a wall and a gate around the parking area and a covered portion on the south side of the building.
Due to building codes, there would still be public access to one of the doors that opens into what is now the courtyard. The main entrances to City Hall would remain unchanged.
The covered area would provide additional security, preventing people who live next door from seeing directly into the police department parking area and entrance.
“It’s a lot safer for the officers and everybody who they bring in back there,” Tischer said. “It’ll be gated so that only squad cars or police department personnel can drive in and out.”
That will protect the identities of confidential informants and victims, as well as prevent vandalism of squad cars and police officers’ personal vehicles, something Tischer said happens on occasion.
Although the police department has a pretty clear idea of what it’s looking for, HSR will finalize the designs over the next few months.
The design fees come out of the parking utility’s budget, and the remainder of the project is funded in the city’s capital improvement budget.
While the city was going through its budgeting process, council member David Marshall initially doubted whether it would be wise to invest in a new parking lot for the police department, as the city has been weighing options for a new public safety facility.
However, he said after Thursday’s meeting that he agreed with the chief’s assessment that it would be worth the cost for the city even if the police department moved out of City Hall.
“Even if they left right away, this would be a very valuable project. There are a lot of vehicles that are off-site that would then be brought on-site, that would actually improve efficiency and remove energy costs and things like that,” Marshall said.
It would also free up spaces in City Hall’s main lot that could that should be reserved for the public, Tischer said.
If approved by the La Crosse Common Council next week, HRS would launch into the design and development phase, with the hope that the project could go out to bids late this spring and be completed this time next year.
“I think in the end for the functional purpose of public safety, it’s going to be really great,” Marshall said.