Winona may soon launch the next step in its efforts to find a long-term home for its police and fire departments. The Winona City Council is expected to vote in early December to hire the architectural firm BKV to conduct a study of possible sites to house the police and fire departments. City staff are vetting sites and compiling a list of sites to bring forward to BKV to study further. Most of the sites being considered were part of a previous study, but city staff said there may be a couple of new ones.

After the City Council took a proposal to demolish the East Rec Center (ERC) off the table in September, the City Council directed city staff to conduct research on alternate options for the departments. Alongside public input, the study would help the city to determine what options are available for the departments, either with a combined police-and-fire station or separate facilities.

City Manager Chad Ubl declined to share the complete list of sites, citing a desire to respect private property owners’ decisions. City staff would reveal a final list of sites to the public when they bring the list forward to the council. “Some of the sites are privately owned that we are at least looking at,” City Manager Chad Ubl said in an interview. “So I don’t want to disclose that at this point, but again, I’m hopeful that we’ll have something in front of our City Council likely, at the latest, the first meeting in December.”

Currently, city staff are conducting internal research on acquiring private properties for the project as well as vetting suggestions of sites from the public. If the city finds the suggested sites aren’t feasible, then it wouldn’t study them further, according to Ubl. That internal review also includes the Law Enforcement Center (LEC), he added.

City staff are primarily focusing on using sites from the previous BKV study (minus the ERC) to further develop ideas of where to go, according to Ubl. He explained that the city and BKV will also have to be clear if each site is going to be a combined police-fire station or a standalone police or fire station.

“The idea in my mind is that we need to have more of that blocking, similar to what we did at the East Rec,” Ubl said. Blocking, in this case, refers to finding out if the requested amenities and needs of the departments would fit within a given space. He continued, “[For the ERC site,] we had BKV expand the scope and say, ‘Well, can you give us actually some blockings,’ [then] we get an idea of how much space and at least the estimate of probable cost. So the idea would be to increase the number of sites that we have actual blocking for.”

Sites in the previous BKV study include Central Fire Station, the former Central Elementary School, the former YMCA, and an industrial property at 370 West Second Street. Ubl said suggestions from the public are also being looked into by staff, even ones that include private properties.

Ubl said the list of sites is being vetted internally by staff before being sent to BKV, as some publicly suggested sites wouldn’t accommodate the police and/or fire departments’ needs, would involve too much work to acquire, or the location simply isn’t feasible. He added that citizens can still recommend sites to staff, but not every suggestion will be a part of the BKV study.

The biggest criterion for the sites — at least for the fire department — would be that they have to be around the area of Chatfield Street to Kansas Street and about two blocks north or south of Broadway Street, Ubl said. In the previous study, this area was identified as providing the best response time for the fire department and providing the best insurance rating for residents.

Ubl explained that city staff members, in communication with county officials, are still researching the possibility of keeping the police department at the LEC. City staff are determining if the LEC is a feasible site for the police department’s needs, and if it is, the LEC would be one of the new sites for BKV to study; however, if the LEC doesn’t meet the police department's needs, the site wouldn’t be studied further. “We're still pursuing combined police and fire [stations], but we know the public wants us to answer that question of why can't the police department stay where they're at or renovate the LEC to meet their needs and can that building be renovated? So we're still vetting that piece,” Ubl said.

With the heavy-lifting work done from the previous study, the new BKV study could possibly have a faster turnaround time, at least for a standalone fire department, according to Ubl. “Under the context, if we want to look at that site for just a standalone fire … I'm not anticipating that it will take BKV a lot of time to analyze that site for blocking, because it was already analyzed for response time, and the baseline work is already complete,” Ubl said. “So I think if we say, ‘BKV, in your proposal, we'd like to see a standalone fire station at its current location, provide blocking,’ I don't think that would take them as long as a previous study.”

Ubl hopes that the staff’s list of sites for BKV would be ready for the City Council by the December 5 council meeting, alongside a timeline of how long it would take BKV to conduct its work.