By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Debris scattered along Tupelo city property downtown will disappear in March, clearing the way for the Tupelo Police Department’s future.
In seven years since Tupelo’s city leaders issued bonds for a new police headquarters, new fire stations have opened, park renovations ended and a $12 million aquatic center opened just a month ago.
Three city administrations ago, Mayor Ed Neelly shared a secret with successor Jack Reed Jr., something to make the wait worthwhile. He shared how it would result in Tupelo police finally getting a facility for the more than 100 detectives, captains, sergeants and patrol officers who protect the city.
It just required more patience.
City participation in busting a contraband cigarette sting operation resulted in Tupelo police acquiring property to build a new facility and $1.5 million in asset forfeiture.
Now, city leaders have $5.3 million in the bank for a new police station and won’t have to pay property costs.
For the next few months, Mayor Jason Shelton, Tupelo City Council members, Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre and other city leaders will determine how much taxpayers will invest in a new police headquarters.
In the meantime, Aguirre continues to meet with architects with the firm JBHM as details continue to shape conceptual renderings.
“I’m also going to get input from others in the department,” Aguirre said. “If you’re on the inside, you know what’s needed.”
He sees a headquarters with additions that do not currently exist – secure sally ports to unload prisoners, a lineup room, evidence processing areas, forensic interview rooms with video capability, short-term holding cells and meeting rooms for community events.
“We’re long overdue getting a new building,” he said. “It’s going modernize the police department for the community’s future.”
Aguirre anticipates the new facility constructed with 20-30 years of city law enforcement needs in mind, even built with potential future expansion.
For close to a half century, the Front Street facility has remained the primary base of operations for Tupelo police. With two more buildings on Court Street, police supervisors work in separate locations from others in the department.
“Everyone understands the need for a new facility,” Shelton said. “It’s just a matter of design and financing.”
City Council members have begun asking when they’ll meet to discuss the new headquarters. Don Lewis, city chief operations officer, said it could happen in coming weeks.
Cost will remain a key issue. Shelton said he hasn’t seen any concrete numbers but has mentioned $7 million to $8 million. Additional costs likely would be paid by city-issued bonds.
So, when will it happen?
“It could be built in 2015,” Shelton said. “I certainly think by this time in 2016 we’ll have a new police facility.”