Mayor, City Council Tour Proposed Site for Public Safety Building

The Mayor and City Council recently took a tour of the building set to one day become the home of the Gaithersburg Police Department. During a scheduled on-site work session Sept. 12, the governing body and members of the public were able to see inside 16 S. Summit Ave.

The tour was requested by city staff to get guidance on how the governing body envisions utilizing space that isn’t already spoken for by the police department. Some of the options presented include community meeting space rooms and relocating City Council chambers.

Prior to the tour, City Councilmember Ryan Spiegel said he was hoping to get a better understanding of the interior construction and what budget would be associated with the work. “If there is a certain cost associated with moving the chambers, does it also leave open the opportunity to design a new chamber, a more modern chamber, from scratch that’s going to have better use of space, more room for members of the public, better use of technology? Right now, the chambers that we are in are fine and lovely but they are also part of a historic building and there are a lot of limitations in terms of space and technology.”

He was also interested in discussing how the design and foot traffic flow of the building can be arranged to make sure the building remains open, accessible and welcoming to the public yet also meets all of the safety and security requirements that would be needed for a police station.  “Does it send the right message to have a council chamber right down the hall from a police station?” Spiegel asked. “As long as you do it the right way, you can, but we need to make sure we do it the right way so that none of the members of our community feel uncomfortable having to come to a council meeting that happens to be right down the hall from a police station. I think we can do it the right way. I think the culture of our police department, the culture of our city government is such that it shouldn’t be a problem but we just need to proceed thoughtfully so that we design the interior of the building in a way that makes sense.”

The city finalized the $5.1-million building purchase in mid-May with the renovation estimated to cost around $8.4 million. Onsite work session tours like this for capital projects are common, according to Spiegel who estimates the council does two to three a year. “It is a chance for us to tour a property or facility, learn about its potential and any challenges and inform our subsequent decisions about the design, funding and other plans for a city property,” he said.

Councilmember Neil Harris said before the tour that he did not “really have super strong feelings” about moving the council chambers to the new building to free up space for offices at City Hall. “But I think we want to look at how that would work and how to connect the two buildings if people have to go back and forth, if it is convenient (and) what other uses there may be for the space,” he said. “The mayor and council chambers themselves—it’s a large chunk of real estate that only gets used a very small percentage of the time, basically for our meetings once a week and for the planning commission meetings and very little else. Just trying to see if there is a way to make that more a multipurpose space that is more efficiently utilized than the way it is today.”