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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Lawyers and defendants arrive Thursday into district court in Springdale. The courtroom capacity is 132 but often people spill into the halls due to overcrowding.

SPRINGDALE -- The detective division of the Police Department sits a block from the main office. The evidence locker is off-site as well.

Defense attorneys hold pretrial conferences with clients in the lobby of the district court building. Shelves line halls holding boxes of paper files -- for 10,000-plus open cases -- in the court clerk's office space.

Special election

Springdale residents will vote on a $200 million bond issue to pay for projects in five areas. The sixth question on the ballot asks voters to renew a 1 percent sales tax to pay the bonds. The renewal must pass for any of the projects to be funded.

Estimated costs and projects are:

• $71.4 million for street improvement

• $47.4 million to refinance debt

• $40.8 million for a criminal justice center and renovate the city administration building

• $19.4 million for parks and trails

• $16.4 million for three fire stations

• $5.2 million to replace the animal shelter

Source: Staff report

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a six-part series on the proposed Springdale bond issue. For previous stories, visit nwadg.com.

Sales tax revenue

Sales tax revenue in Springdale has increased almost 29 percent in five years from $10,219,412 in 2012 to $14,463,557 in 2017.

Source: Staff report

Early voting

Early voting begins Tuesday for the Springdale bond election. Also on the ballot in Benton County is a bond refinancing in Highfill to pay for water system improvement by extending a 1 cent sales tax and a 3.9 mill increase in property tax in the Pea Ridge School District to build a new high school.

Voters will be required to state their name, address and date of birth. They will be asked for photo identification, but they aren’t required to show it.

In Benton County, early voting will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Feb. 12 at the County Clerk’s offices in Bentonville, Rogers and Siloam Springs. Eligible voters may cast their ballots at any location.

In Washington County, early voting will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Feb. 12 at the County Clerk’s office, 280 North College Ave., Fayetteville.

Source: Staff report

The city bought buildings on Spring Street a few years ago to accommodate the building, code enforcement and information technology departments.

The City Administration Building is bursting at the seams, said Mayor Doug Sprouse.

"They tell me it was full the day they moved in here," he said.

The Administration Building on Spring Street opened in 1995. It houses the Police Department, the city attorney and his staff, the District Court and its staff as well as various city departments and the mayor's office. The City Council and Planning Commission meet in a downstairs auditorium.

Currently, 235 people work in city hall, with 44 more employees working in those Spring Street offices.

A proposed $200 million bond issue by the city includes $40.8 million to build a criminal justice center for police and courts and to renovate the city administration building.

Springdale residents will vote Feb. 13 on the issue. The bonds would be paid with an extension of a 1-cent sales tax.

Elbow room

Space at the administration building grew tight as the city grew, officials said. Springdale recorded 35,182 residents, when the current building was planned in 1993. The number nears an estimated 80,000 today.

Rusty Hudson, a Washington County public defender serving Springdale, met with clients Thursday morning in the lobby outside of the courtroom.

"This is my office," he told one client.

Hudson said the meetings in open spaces threaten attorney-client privilege because a client speaking in confidence could easily be overheard. Snippets overheard by a reporter from such meetings Thursday included "marijuana pipe" and "suspended driver's license."

District Court Judge Jeff Harper said 21,615 charges were filed -- traffic tickets and criminal cases -- in 2017. Civil cases numbered 2,200, and the judge heard another 168 cases in small claims court. In 1993, the court handled 5,000 cases.

Harper holds arraignments in the lobby several times a year because the courtroom's capacity of 132 is too small, he said.

"It just keeps getting more cramped," Harper said.

He doesn't ask for more full-time employees because he has no place to put them. The added work has been handled by part-time employees working on laptops without an assigned desk, he said.

The city attorney's staff has grown from two attorneys to four and a victims' advocate since the building opened, said City Attorney Ernest Cate. The law library now includes a work space for a clerk, and the break room occasionally has been cleared for private depositions.

"Our case load has quadrupled," Cate said. "We're cramped, and we have been for many years."

The police force numbered 75 in 1993. Today, 250 serve and protect the city.

"We've knocked walls down. We've put walls up. We're out of options," said Police Chief Mike Peters of his department's dedicated space.

The off-site detective division hampers communication and can compromise safety as witnesses, suspects and prisoners are moved between the buildings, he said.

"When we moved in, we thought it was very nice, compared to what we had before," said Peters, who was a detective at the time. "But we had no room to grow. There were no open work spaces."

The 25-year-old administration building is also nearing the end of its mechanical life, Sprouse said. Several cases of power outages, nonworking heaters and frozen pipes were reported during January's cold weather.

Future design

A Design Excellence grant from the Walton Family Foundation paid for a needs assessments and initial design of the new building released in September. Duvall Decker Architects of Jackson, Miss., was hired for the job. The assessment concluded all the departments need more space.

The proposed design would improve both accessibility and security for the city staff and residents. The campus would be built in phases over about three years, Sprouse said.

The new city administration campus will include 120,000 square feet, as compared to the 45,00 square feet in the current building, not including the off-site office space, according to Wyman Morgan, the city's director of administration and finance.

"They addressed things we didn't even know we needed," Peters said of the architects' design. For example, the evidence room needs to be near the patrol room, so the officers don't have to carry evidence all over the building.

"They had architects that specialize in building police departments," he said. "When they explained it, it made sense. It will make our department much more economical, much more efficient."

The Police Department building would be along Huntsville Avenue north of the current building. The criminal justice complex wouldn't have a jail for misdemeanor prisoners like the city currently operates. City officials want to send those inmates to the Washington County Detention Center in Fayetteville.

The new courts building would sit between the Police Department and the current building. The current building would then be renovated for other city departments, the mayor's office and expanded City Council chambers.

The design consolidates city departments often used by residents on the first floor -- the clerk's offices, the building inspector, the planning department -- allowing for quicker, less confusing service, Sprouse said. It also would incorporate departments moved off-site.

"Another concern is safety," Sprouse said. "We live in a different world than we did in 1995." The building will have just one access point for the public, and all security screening will be there.

Parking will be moved across Spring Street, leaving the area in front of the building as a safety buffer with a more park-like setting.

Built to last

"I get defensive when people say they are concerned about the price," Sprouse said. "They say, 'Boy, that sounds high.' It is high, but those who have experienced our buildings know what we need.

"It's not a fancy, not an elaborate building," Sprouse continued. "It will have polished concrete floors and block walls. But it will be a well-built building that will last 100 years. We don't need a building that they will have to rebuild or do something different with in 20 years. We should spend a little more now and build it right. The money won't go as far in 20 years."

The new building has been designed to increase storage capacity and convenience for residents working with the city. Yet the future of technology points to a paperless world and services accessed via home computers. Will the city need all this space in the future?

These factors were considered as the architects based their design on the completed needs assessment, Sprouse said.

Harper said once the back files are scanned, his office won't need as much space, but that won't be any time soon. A building behind city hall holds even more boxes.

The court began to provide online and telephone payment of fines in 2016 for those who didn't need to go before the judge, but in more than 50 percent of the court's cases, the defendant is required to see the judge.

"You're kind of looking into a crystal ball to know what the future of technology will be," Sprouse said.

Sprouse said the fate of the ancillary buildings the city uses to house overflow will be determined by the City Council. He hopes the members vote to sell the buildings to take advantage of increasing sales prices based on the promise of a revitalized downtown district.

He also noted the $36 million investment will be a boon to the downtown area.

"Drop that kind of building anywhere, and it will help any area develop."

NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Attorney Austin Lucas of Fayetteville talks Thursday to his client in a doorway outside of district court in Springdale. The current court facility has no rooms for attorneys to confer with clients, forcing them into the public hall.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Public defender Rusty Hudson takes attendance Thursday at district court in Springdale.
Courtesy photo/DUVALL DECKER ARCHITECTS This artist rendering shows the proposed Springdale Municipal Complex officials wish to build should city voters pass a bond issue.

NW News on 02/04/2018

Print Headline: Bond would pay for Springdale buildings

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