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El Paso police, fire bond projects advance as cost concerns loom

Fire Station 10, recently renovated using funds from the 2019 public safety bond, reopens in Central El Paso, April 17, 2024.
Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters
Fire Station 10, recently renovated using funds from the 2019 public safety bond, reopens in Central El Paso, April 17, 2024.

by Elida S. Perez, El Paso Matters
April 17, 2024

While various projects in the voter-approved $413 million public safety bond from 2019 are advancing, concerns are looming over increased post-pandemic construction prices that may cost taxpayers millions more than projected.

About $221 million of the bond is allocated to police facilities, including $90 million for new police headquarters; while the remaining $191.2 million will go to fire facilities, including $29.6 million toward new Fire Department headquarters. Both headquarters will be located at the future site of a joint training facility on a 300-acre parcel in Northeast El Paso. The City Council has not given direction on what will happen to the existing police and fire headquarters once the new facilities are complete, a city spokeswoman said.

The new and updated facilities are expected to improve response times in expanding areas of the city and continue the regional command policing model. The new academies are intended to accommodate larger training classes and boost the police and fire force, city leaders have said. The bond will also address major maintenance and renovation of aging facilities.

“They're all very important to us, so we appreciate what the voters did,” El Paso Police Chief Peter Pacillas told El Paso Matters.

The City Council on April 9 approved a $3.6 million contract with Consor Engineers LLC, in Houston to serve as project manager for the joint police and fire training academy. The $78 million facility has one of the highest price tags among the bond projects. 

The El Paso Police Department Central Regional Command Center, 200 S. Campbell Street. (Cindy Ramirez / El Paso Matters)

The council that day also approved purchasing the former Bonham Elementary School near Cielo Vista Mall from the El Paso Independent School District for about $4.76 million for the future central regional command center. The new $24.6 million facility will replace the command center in Downtown, though metro and bicycle police will still operate out of the existing building.

Multiple projects have broken ground and about a dozen completed since the bond was approved in 2019 – just months before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and businesses shut down.

The El Paso Police Department’s new Eastside Regional Command Center on Pebble Hills Boulevard and Tim Foster Street east of Joe Battle Boulevard, was constructed as part of a $413 million public safety bond approved by voters in 2019. (Luis Torres/El Paso Matters)

The $36 million police Far East command center at Pebble Hills Boulevard and Tim Foster Street is about 90% completed and is set to open in June. Three fire station renovations – No. 36 and No. 26 on the West Side and No. 10 in West Central – have been completed and are operational.

“We have outgrown our training and support facilities,” El Paso Fire Chief Jonathan Killings said. 

El Paso Fire Department Chief Jonathan Killings speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the recently renovated Fire Station 10 in Central El Paso, April 17, 2024. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“Some of our fire stations needed updates and upgrades not only to provide better tools for our members but also so they can reflect the diversity of our organization and provide a comfortable and adequate environment for our first responders, and the public safety bond allows us to reach that goal,” he said.

Material, labor costs increase

While the city factored in 30% contingency and 4% escalation in project costs in 2019, city Engineer Yvette Hernandez said it is possible some projects may need more funding.

“What we're experiencing now is that post-COVID inflation in material prices, in labor and there is even still a labor shortage,” Hernandez said.

The price of material goods such as iron, steel products, copper, insulation materials and asphalt rose between 36% and 76%, a July 2023 bond update presentation to the City Council showed.

At least three projects are anticipated to cost more than projected, the presentation shows: The regional command center in the Cielo Vista neighborhood, initially estimated to cost $24.6 million, could require an additional $10 million; the police headquarters could cost $117 million, up from the projected $91 million; and the new police academy may cost $14 million more than the estimated $19 million.

Hernandez said despite the challenges, they are still aiming to keep the projects within budget through the design process. Hernandez said they are assessing projects to determine where potential cost savings can be diverted toward budget shortfalls. The public safety bond projects are expected to continue to be rolled out over the next five years.

The El Paso Police Department’s new far east regional command center on Pebble Hills Boulevard and Tim Foster Street east of Joe Battle Boulevard, was constructed as part of a $413 million public safety bond approved by voters in 2019. (Luis Torres/El Paso Matters)

“We really want to mitigate that by working with both our consultants and our contractors,” Hernandez said. “For right now, we're still within budget. Thankfully, we did learn from 2012 to account for inflation.”

Several projects in the city’s $473 million quality of life bond that included parks, libraries and community centers approved by voters in 2012 cost more than the city initially estimated or grew in scope and size under different city administrations, increasing construction costs.

The city has issued millions of dollars in certificates of obligation – debt that doesn’t require voter approval as do the general bonds – to supplement the cost of the projects that have grown at times, based partly on community feedback after the bond’s approval.

2019 Public Safety Bond Projects

About 59% of voters approved $413 million in bonds for several police and fire projects. Here’s a list of projects according to a 2023 city presentation:

Police: $221 million

  • Far Eastside Command Center: $38.6M 
  • Public Safety Training Academy: $19.9M
  • Police Headquarters: $90.6M  
  • Central Regional Command: $24.6M 
  • Major Renovations of 4 Regional Command Centers: $44.8M 
  • Fleet Replacement: $3.3M 

Fire: $191.2 million

  • Station 36: $11.3M 
  • Station 38: (Municipal Complex)* $11.8M 
  • Special Teams Station: $17.1M 
  • Station 40: $15.5M 
  • Public Safety Training Facility and Logistics: $29.6M
  • Fire Headquarters: $29.6M 
  • Station Renovations: $74.4M 
  • Vehicle Replacement: $1.8M

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Article Topic Follows: El Paso

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