City Manager: Moving District 5 police station could cost up to $10M

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Moving Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters could cost up to $10 million, the city manager told a council committee Monday.

After a FOX19 NOW investigation into conditions at Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters, City Manager Harry Black is formally recommending it be moved into another building in just over two years.

The city manager announced his recommendation in a memo to Council last week.

On Monday, Black appeared before Council's Law & Public Safety Committee to go over his proposal.

He wants Council to earmark a $7 million to $10 million in the 2018 budget to completely remodel the city's permit center on Central Parkway into a new District 5 that would open in May 2019.

But some council members want to move the 134 sworn officers and civilians sooner.

Four of them have signed a motion directing Black to close it this May, in just a few months.

The motion was written by Councilman Charlie Winburn and co-sponsored by Wendell Young; Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach also are on board.

Councilman Chris Smitherman has said he was leaning toward signing it, but he wanted details on where workers would be moved and how much it would cost first.

On Monday, both Smitherman and Councilman Kevin Flynn praised Black's recommendation.

Flynn also said Council should have put the project in the city's budget last year instead of choosing to spend money on other, less pressing ventures such as the Wasson Way bike trail.

Smitherman said he wants to tour the new permit center, along with any other council members who wish to come along.

It's not clear when that would occur.

Last week, FOX 19 NOW also asked the city to tour the permit center.

FOX19 NOW began a series of investigative reports on District 5 on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton in November when we were invited into the building by the president of the union that represents Cincinnati police, Sgt. Dan Hils.

Our cameras were the only ones there as the police union leader exposed concerns he said workers there brought to his attention including what appeared to be mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters.

After the police union took our cameras into District 5, Sgt. Hils asked the city to conduct mold and radon tests.

Those and other air quality tests including an environmental audit of the building found no issues with mold, asbestos or radon, Black told a council committee in December.

Moisture was found "here and there" in the building, he said, and the city will hire an outside expert to deal with that.

At that time, Black told the Law & Public Safety Committee it appeared likely a renovated new District 5 would be built at one of the city's existing buildings, the permit center, but council would have final say when they decide the 2018-2019 budget in June.

The soonest renovations could start would likely be 2019, he said in December.

Wednesday's recommendation moves that informal estimate up a year, with work beginning in July 2018.

In his memo to Council, Black said there's room at the permit center for 134 employees and parking for 90. The city would need to add 50 more parking spaces.

The permit center has sat vacant since permit offices moved to Centennial II, across the street from City Hall, in 2015. The city bought the property in 2003 for $2.1 million, and Cincinnati's first centralized permit office opened there in 2004.

More details about District 5's recommended move and renovation of the permit center will come in May of this year, Black's memo states. Council is expected to adopt the 2018 budget in June.

The city manager's memo to Council also reiterates a series of internal and external inspections and tests have indicated the building is in "good condition from environmental perspective; however it is not ideal in the long term primarily due to lack of space."

His memo also states that in order for the city to fund the District 5 relocation, "other projects will likely need to be deferred. Obviously, we will provide guidance and insight to assist you in making funding decisions."

Black's memo does not elaborate on which "other projects" would be impacted.

District 5 covers a large portion around the University of Cincinnati area, serving Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Camp Washington, Northside, and Winton Hills. Just over 130 people work there, mostly sworn officers.

Problems and overcrowding are nothing new at the building designed more as a park lodge than a police station when it was built in 1957.

Past and present police commanders have unsuccessfully tried for years to find ways to build a District 5 headquarters.

Council most recently rejected budgeting $17 million for a new headquarters in 2015.

That came after the current District 5 commander gave a lengthy City Hall presentation with photos detailing most of the same problems captured on our cameras.

Since our cameras went into District 5, the police union president said our reporting has led officers with health concerns and diagnosed with cancer to come to him and share their stories.

Sgt. Dan Hils has said at least 30 current and past officers have been diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died.

There is no known link between the building and cancer, but Sgt. Hils has said he thinks there could be.

Six officers who died in 2015 and 2016 particularly concern the police union leader. He said all were in their 50s and all but one worked in jobs that kept them mostly in the building during their shifts.

[Related story: Cancer doctor has concerns about District 5 police station]

Nationally, one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer in their lifetime, according to data from the U.S. National Cancer Institute. One in four men will be diagnosed with cancers they have a risk of dying from; one in five women will.

Earlier this month, one of the city's most prominent civil rights leaders, Bishop Bobby Hilton, asked council to have a cancer outlier study conducted comparing District 5's cancer rate with ones at the city's other four police districts, or headquarters.

He got involved after his youngest sister, Angela Hilton, a longtime District 5 officer, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in early December.

Citing medical privacy laws, however, the city administration has declined to release that information so far.

But most council members have told FOX19 NOW they see merit in such a study determining that data for them to consider.

Hilton and several other relatives of those whose loved ones worked at District 5 and then became diagnosed with cancer tell FOX19 NOW they want the police station to shut down as soon as possible.

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