Move to new police headquarters delayed

Baton Rouge police are eagerly awaiting the day they can bid farewell to the old, dilapidated schoolhouse they’ve called home for 25 years, but officials say that day likely won’t come as soon as they’d hoped.

“It’s depressing to come in here,” Police Chief Carl Dabadie said of the aging structure on Mayflower Street.

Dabadie said it’s going to take a few months longer than originally anticipated for the Police Department to move its headquarters into the former Woman’s Hospital, a sprawling facility officials say will put the current police station to shame.

The city-parish acquired the 24-acre campus at Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard for $10 million, and is planning $2.8 million in renovations to convert the hospital into a public safety complex.

If things go according to plan, Dabadie said, the Police Department will be unpacking its final boxes sometime between April and June.

Officials originally had hoped to be moved in by the end of the year, and the chief said that’s still possible for at least some personnel, including his administrative staff.

“If they run into a snafu, that could prolong it even further,” Dabadie said. “I think it’s just such a massive building that nobody had any idea how big it is, and it’s just taking longer for them to get the things done.”

A number of factors have contributed to the delay, including unforeseen complications with the air-conditioning system, officials said.

The process the city-parish had to use to hire an architectural consultant set the project back 90 days, said William Daniel, chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden.

“There’s just a lot of time-consuming things, and the dominos have to follow a certain order,” city-parish architect Jim Frey said.

Aside from administrative offices, the department’s Third District precinct on Coursey Boulevard and criminal investigation bureau on Plank Road will be moving into the new headquarters.

The training academy is expected to relocate to the site by the end of the year.

The most extensive renovations are planned for the criminal investigation bureau, Frey said, a division that requires an open-plan layout so investigators can meet in larger groups to discuss cases.

“We don’t want to just shove them in there,” Frey said. “We’ll be modifying one to two floors somewhat extensively, and all the rest would be minor renovations.”

Crews are planning some exterior changes to the complex, including adding a gate that Frey likened to the one outside the State Police headquarters on Independence Boulevard.

“We definitely are going to take away the pink neon lighting on the doctors tower,” Frey said. “I guess it’s a guy thing.”

The Police Department has been in its headquarters — formerly home to the School for the Deaf — since 1988.

Dabadie said moving out will be “a huge morale boost” for his officers.

“Right now, they’re kind of ashamed to say ‘I work in that building,’ ” he said.

Frey estimated the Police Department will occupy about half of the former hospital site once it is fully moved in. P

lans still call for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office to move there as well, creating a joint public safety complex that city-parish officials have said will bolster collaboration between the two agencies.

There also has been talk of housing some part of the Baton Rouge Fire Department at the complex, but officials said this week that no firm plans have been made.

For his part, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has made increasingly clear that he is happy in his new headquarters near Metro Airport and is in no hurry to move again.

The Sheriff’s Office recently relocated from its former downtown office, spending more than $700,000 to renovate a facility that used to house the state Department of Transportation and Development.

“I don’t see that happening anywhere on the horizon,” Gautreaux said Wednesday of the prospect of moving again. “I can’t even tell you if it will happen.”