ELKHART — An additional appropriation of $3.4 million was approved Monday night by the Elkhart City Council for investments in a new combined police and fire station.
The council will buy the 157,000-square-foot former Bayer building and 25-acre property on the northwest side of the city for $1.2 million.
For an additional $2.2 million, the city would pay for design, construction documents, procurement and construction, according to a letter from Republican Mayor Tim Neese.
Both appropriations were approved in a 7-2 party-line vote.
American Structurepoint Inc. will be contracted for the work. The group has been involved in earlier stages of the project since 2017.
The police, fire and communications departments will all move into the former Bayer building when it has been renovated. According to Neese, the new public safety building will ensure a higher level of public protection through the sharing of technology, resources, information and expertise.
The departments are currently located by Waterfall Drive in downtown Elkhart. The police department has long said its building from 1975 is too small for its staff.
Chief of Police Chris Snyder said that, when the existing station was constructed, the department housed 90 to 100 officers. The force has since grown by roughly 50%, and the civilian staff is bigger as well, he said.
"The room where we do our training is also the room where we do our briefings, which is also where we train our new officers, which is where we have to conduct a lot of meetings, so there's always a conflict in who's going to get that room," Snyder said.
Snyder promised "significant savings" over time.
Fire Chief Steve Kamp and Communications Department head Michelle Miller both said they are outgrowing their facilities as well. According to Miller, the Communications Department building was constructed in 1865.
Neese agreed with the department heads.
"Simply put, our current facilities are outdated and overcrowded," Neese wrote in his letter to City Council.
In addition to giving first responders a larger and more modern space, the new facility would add features such as a dedicated training space and an Emergency Operations Center that can be used for natural disasters or as a command center, according to the mayor.
Assistant Police Chief Todd Thayer said having all three departments under one roof would significantly improve collaboration, which could save lives during major events. Neese said that it was clear during the 2018 flooding that first responders could work more efficiently if they were in the same building.
He said his administration, with the assistance of American Structurepoint, has taken its time to select the best location while ensuring that the taxpayers' money is spent wisely.
"When we considered cost, location, size and accessibility, no other site compared," Neese said.
The Bayer site also presents a unique opportunity to repurpose a building of historical significance in the Elkhart community and bring life to a once thriving site, he said.
Snyder acknowledged that the current police and fire stations are at good and central locations, but the locations do not leave room for growth. He also said that, with Nappanee and Bristol streets and Edwardsburg Avenue right by the Bayer site, officers will have easy access to different parts of the city.
Police officers also do not come to the station as often as they did in 1975, Snyder said, because they can file their reports from their squad cars, which now works as a mobile office. That puts less importance on the location of the station.
Kamp said the Fire Department administration will move to the new facility, but that the central station will continue to operate as a fire station.
Rick Conner, president of American Structurepoint, said the total cost of creating the new public safety complex at the Bayer site will be around $30 million. If the former Bayer building had not been standing, the price would more likely be $45 million, he said.
The former headquarters of Miles Laboratories and Bayer AG was sold to Feed the Children for $1 in October 2003.
Conner said that American Structurepoint will make designs over the winter and start construction in the spring.
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus
An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Feed the Children had previously bought the the site that will house the new public safety complex.