By Donald Wittkowski
A two-year debate over the fate of the antiquated Public Safety Building took a different turn Thursday night when City Council hired an architect to develop concepts for a new complex for the police department and municipal court at another location.
Up to this point, Mayor Jay Gillian and Council had focused on the possibility of renovating the existing building or replacing it with a new facility at the current location at Eighth Street and Central Avenue, next to City Hall in the heart of downtown.
But the conceptual design study approved by Council on Thursday will look at the possibility of building a new public safety complex at 16th Street and Simpson Avenue on the outskirts of the downtown business district.
In 2016, Gillian had proposed replacing the old building with an entirely new structure at Eighth Street and Central Avenue. Later, he proposed renovating and expanding the old building as the most cost-efficient option.
But now, all options “are on the table,” including the possibility of building a new complex at 16th Street and Simpson Avenue, city spokesman Doug Bergen explained.
“It’s speculative,” he said.
Bergen noted that the mayor has not yet made up his mind. Gillian has repeatedly said the project should be analyzed in more depth before the city decides whether to build a new complex or renovate the existing one.
City Council approved a $22,250 contract with Somers Point-based McLees Architecture LLC to develop conceptual designs for a new building at 16th Street and Simpson Avenue.
The proposed site is where Ocean City Chevrolet, formerly known as the Perry-Egan auto dealership, once operated. The dealership closed its doors last January.
The now-vacant property is privately owned by the Klause family, City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said. The city would have to acquire the site if it moved ahead with plans to develop a new Public Safety Building there.
The existing Public Safety Building, which was a school before it was converted into the police headquarters, dates to 1884, according to a sign on the front of the facility.
To save the historic red-brick building, extensive renovations would be needed, including bringing it into compliance with federal flooding requirements, Gillian has said.
The cost for a new Public Safety Building at the current site has been estimated at $17.5 million.
Councilman Michael DeVlieger suggested that when the city does make a decision on the Public Safety Building, language should be incorporated in the engineering contract to protect the city when the project is put out for bid.
DeVlieger said the language would require the engineer to redesign the project if the bids come in significantly higher than the pre-bid estimates.
“The money is bad, but the time we lose is painful,” he said of the delays caused by bids that are too high.
In other business Thursday, Council approved a $10.2 million bond ordinance to fund a series of road, drainage and dredging projects across the city. The funding will also be used for improvements to public restrooms and buildings, including roof repairs to the Music Pier on the Boardwalk.
Council also approved a settlement in a lawsuit over its state-mandated affordable housing obligations. Overall, the settlement will allow the city to meet its requirements for affordable housing, McCrosson said.
Among other things, the settlement creates “overlay zones” in the city where affordable housing could be built, McCrosson noted.
The city will also collaborate with the Ocean City Housing Authority to create affordable housing. The authority oversees affordable housing for low-income families, senior citizens and the disabled.
In another matter Thursday, the city’s outside accounting firm reported that the 2017 municipal audit turned up no problems.
“This is a clean audit. There are no findings or recommendations,” said Michael Garcia, a partner with Ford-Scott & Associates LLC, an Ocean City accounting firm that conducted the financial review.
The 103-page audit underscores the city’s financial strength and stability, Garcia told the Council members during a presentation.
“Ocean City has always been a leader in financial administration compared to many other municipalities,” he said.
The Council members joined Garcia in praising Frank Donato, the city’s chief financial officer, for Ocean City’s habit of having clean audits year after year. Councilman Bob Barr called Donato “a rock star” of public finance.
“Frank, you and your team do a tremendous job,” Barr said, echoing the comments of other Council members.