By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Five years after the city approved funding for a new police station, the project remains shelved while Tupelo’s finest continue to endure cramped working conditions.
The Tupelo Police Department’s 136 employees have no central building to call home and work instead from two small outposts located several blocks from each other. Administration and patrol officers occupy the old jail on Front Street; detectives and records set up shop in a former Tupelo Water amp& Light office.
“It’s not the greatest situation,” said Chief Tony Carleton as he walked through the Front Street facility, which was built in 1966 and appears never to have been updated.
Heavy foot traffic has worn the baby blue carpet to a thread-bare sheath; drinking cups catch rainwater that seeps through the roof; administrators and secretaries work in converted jail cells; the front doors don’t even close completely so lobby guests feel the weather – hot or cold.
City officials await the federal government’s release of a seized warehouse they’ll use as the site of the new headquarters, but it’s unclear how much longer that will take. Tupelo has anticipated getting it “soon.”
Even after they get it, it could take several more years before a new station emerges on the site, which is located on the corner of Front and Franklin streets. First, the old warehouse – a 100,000-square-foot building that formerly housed Milam Manufacturing and, more recently, contraband cigarettes – must be demolished. Then architects will design a new facility. Then the city will seek a contractor to do the work.
And it will need more money than what’s left in its original allocation. The city had set aside $4 million out of a $9.5 million bond issue five years ago for the police station. Since then, however, a half million of those funds were diverted toward the North Gloster Street fire station project, whose costs ran over the projected budget, said City Clerk Kim Hanna.
Construction costs also have risen in the years since Tupelo first envisioned the project. Recent, but unofficial, estimates for the building now hover around $6 million. It’s unclear where additional funds will come from, but no one has disputed the need for a new police station.
Plans for the facility were launched in the administration of former Mayor Ed Neelly, who lamented the fact Tupelo didn’t have a proper police station. He wanted a showpiece, a building residents would admire, placed in a central location downtown.
But Neelly and the previous City Council couldn’t decide on a site.
Since then, Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who took office in July 2009, has taken up the effort. When the federal government seized the old Milam plant in the contraband cigarette raid and told the city it could have it, Reed said the police station had found its site.
The city signed a Memorandum of Understanding to take over the building in December, but it’s still waiting for final approval from the feds.
Until then, police officers and other senior law enforcement officials will have to make do.
136 Full-time employees, including officers and administrators
25 volunteer reserve officers
73 vehicles, including cruisers, vans and bomb trucks
3 Harley Davidsons