Photo by Diane Cox
Pictured are Wood River Police Chief Otis Steward, left, City Manager Jim Schneider and Mayor Fred Ufert after they announced plans to build a new police station.
WOOD RIVER — British Petroleum is donating land and providing funding for a new police station.
During Monday’s City Council meeting, council members voted in favor of item No. 7 on the agenda, an agreement authorizing the real property donation and redevelopment agreement with BP for construction of the new station.
BP will provide $7.8 million in funding and property along Illinois 143 for the city to construct the facility. The current police station, including a jail, is housed in what city officials describe as cramped space in City Hall.
“For years now, our police force has done a tremendous job working in incredibly cramped headquarters,” Wood River City Manager Jim Schneider said. “The dispatch center, the jail, the evidence room — they are all way too small to meet our city’s needs. This new space will allow our force the room they need to do the job all of us in Wood River count on them to do. We are looking forward to seeing hammers going.”
Mayor Fred Ufert said the city and BP long have sought to redevelop the site. One of the goals of Ufert’s administration was to see the site put back into use to benefit Wood River residents.
“The former Amoco refinery property has played a critical role in the history of this community,” BP Lifecycle Strategy Manager Lori Littrell said. “The refinery was the economic engine that gave birth to the city and powered this area for more than 75 years. Even after the refinery closed, other businesses have operated on the riverfront, providing jobs and tax revenues. We are proud to contribute a piece of this important and historic property to the people of this community to serve such a critical need.”
The agreement with BP is part of a settlement in which the city agreed not to pursue liability issues against the company, Schneider said.
The city will begin accepting bids for construction in the near future with an estimated five to six months before groundbreaking. Storm and sewer lines will need to be installed. The station will take up about 7 acres of land. The city is looking at roughly two years after all contracts are signed before the official ribbon-cutting occurs and the station is open for business. Ufert said he hopes the development will help spark new businesses along Illinois 143.
“We hope that the new police station on Route 143 will serve as an anchor development, attracting new interest and attention from the development community,” Ufert said. “In the next few years, we would like to see the police station joined by commercial developments both on the exterior and the interior of the former refinery site.”
The space that is currently used for the police department will be incorporated into the rest of City Hall. Records for the city are stored at different department sites and will be moved to the newly acquired space, allowing that information to be more centralized. Keeping the jail intact will provide a space that can be locked for sensitive or other protected information. Wood River Police Chief Otis Steward laughed as he said it would be the most secure storage space around.
“We are certainly looking forward to our new home,” Steward said. “But we will miss our old station ... kind of.”
Plans for the BP agreement were slightly delayed before Monday’s vote and announcement because of easement guidelines. The initial easement was set at 25 feet from the road, but after plans were reviewed, it was determined that underground pipelines would become the city’s responsibility.
“Architects had to redraw and resubmit the plans,” Ufert said. “It was determined that the station’s footprint would be adjusted an additional 25 feet to the south and 25 feet to the west to avoid the pipelines and allow for the easement along 143 and Sixth Street.”
When a question arose concerning the possibility of the new jail walls being painted pink, Steward smiled, shrugged and responded by saying, “I don’t know ... they could be.”
Along with plans for the new police station, Steward said the department has ordered 14 new police officer body cameras from Wolfcom of Los Angeles. Steward approached the council concerning body cameras for the department at the Sept. 2 meeting after the police shooting incident in Ferguson, Mo., took center stage.
“There are a lot of incidents where a camera may have prevented things from getting escalated,” Steward said at the Sept. 2 meeting. “People may think twice or make different choices if they know every officer has a camera on them.”
The cameras are expected in the next two to three months. Questions about storage for the data collected by the cameras still are being answered.
“There are options of having up to two years of storage,” Steward said. “We are hoping to have at least the standard of 90 days of data stored.”