TAWAS CITY – The future of the Tawas Police Authority (TPA) building has been discussed on and off for the last several years, with the topic being rehashed most recently during the June 3 TPA Board meeting.

Board Chair and Tawas City Manager Annge Horning requested that an engineering quote be presented at the next meeting, regarding a design proposal for the building.

TPA personnel – which serve both East Tawas and Tawas City – work from a facility at 810 W. Westover St. in East Tawas. The space, which the TPA leases from East Tawas, is located within the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) building.

“Currently the facility needs some improvements,” said TPA Vice Chair/Operations Manager Brent Barringer, who is also the East Tawas City Manager.

He added that there has been talk of what the other options may be, before money is invested for improving the existing building.

According to Barringer, one such avenue which has been discussed is the possibility of the TPA utilizing the Michigan State Police (MSP) detachment building, located on US-23 in East Tawas.

Other options, he said, include constructing something new or making upgrades to the current structure.

Barringer said there is a lot on the table, but he thinks the important part is that whatever happens, it is led by the TPA.

As for the MSP detachment option, there were conflicting views among those at the meeting.

TPA Chief Mark Ferguson said it is his personal opinion that the detachment possibility is not going to happen.

One reason he cited is that the MSP is focused on improving its large post in West Branch, which could be years in the making, and maybe then they will shift their attention to some of the other detachments.

Horning said the MSP is not interested in re-opening the building, based on an e-mail from F/Lt. Chris Luty, MSP West Branch Post Commander.

However, TPA Board member and East Tawas Councilwoman Lisa Bolen said she spoke with Luty a couple weeks ago, and she didn’t get the impression that the door was closed on this option.

Barringer noted that the MSP is open to cohabitating with the TPA at the detachment, but what it comes down to is the logistics of how to make that happen.

“What’s still being explored is, would they want to sell that facility,” he continued.

Whatever route is chosen, Barringer said he would first like the board to task Ferguson with determining what could be done to improve the existing facility.

 Barringer remarked that the board needs to understand the current facility first, after which they can explore what makes sense, as far as additional options.

“I think we’ve done that to a degree already,” Horning said, adding that Ferguson has given a number of tours of the building to members of each council.

She said there’s an ongoing concern about the condition of the current structure and the lack of space, which is why alternate locations were looked at by the board several years ago.

“We even had an appraisal done on a building and made an offer that was turned down. So, Brent, I think we’ve done that and I think Mark has made it very clear that what we currently have does not work.,” Horning continued.

As previously reported, the TPA Board voted in March 2017 to have a commercial appraisal conducted on a piece of property which was being considered for purchase and appeared to be a good fit.

Horning said the results of the appraisal – which were discussed in closed session during a special meeting of the TPA Board – were shared with the property owner and the figure was simply too low for him.

She said this meant that the option was off the table for the TPA, unless they wanted to pay a lot more.

It was also reported at the time that those from East Tawas have expressed interest in using the entire building for the DPW. As a result, the TPA had been keeping an eye out for potential new office locations.

Ferguson, during the most recent board meeting, said that if there is a desire to improve the existing facility, he would need authorization to spend money on an engineer and/or architect who is experienced in this field.

Barringer said his thought is to not even consider other options until the board looks at the current building and understands the cost and ability of same, and what it would take to improve it to meet the needs of the TPA. “And only the TPA can make that decision. And that has to come from the chief.”

He said if the board determines that upgrades to the existing building are not a worthy investment, they can then move on to the next option. “But until we define it, with dollars and time and ability, then we are not addressing the situation.”

TPA Board Member and Tawas City Councilman Jon Studley said he thinks they all agree that something needs to be done, whether it involves the current facility or a new one.

“We made an offer on a building and it didn’t work out,” he commented, noting that this is something the board was already looking into. “So I don’t know if we need to have any more recommendations from the chief, other than what is needed for space to accommodate his staff.”

Horning pointed out that some of this information has already been gathered, as well.

She explained that she, former East Tawas City Manager Blinda Baker, Tawas City Mayor Ken Cook and East Tawas Mayor Bruce Bolen were all on a committee a couple years ago, which was reviewing the TPA’s pension.

When the offer was made on the aforementioned property and then turned down, Horning said Bolen and Cook had some discussions on the TPA facility.

According to Horning, what was shared with her was that neither of the mayors felt the TPA should own property, but that the authority should lease building space instead.

From these discussions, she said talks were had about the existing building and the needs of the TPA officers.

There were a couple pieces of property available in Tawas City at the time, as well, Horning said. “So Tawas City purchased them. The price was right, the location was right, and Tawas City moved forward with having a concept design done.”

She added that a floor plan was also drawn up, Ferguson was involved in these talks and he communicated with his staff about their needs.

Horning said the designs were created with a $400,000 facility in mind, and that those involved went so far as to look at what rent is acceptable for the TPA to pay.

Barringer said he thinks it’s great to have these ideas on paper, but he reiterated that he believes it should be determined how many improvements are needed at the current building, and whether such upgrades are even possible.

“We haven’t done the math to know what the cost is, so I just want us to get to that point before we start exploring other options; that’s all,” he said.

As for the chief’s recommendation on what he needs for the facility, Horning showed Barringer the conceptual drawings/preliminary plans, saying, “This is it. That’s the space that he needs.”

“The only way we can make a decision on this is if we know what the cost will be to stay in our current facility. If we don’t have that, we cannot make a decision on something different,” Barringer maintained.

Studley said that decision was already made, in his opinion, when the TPA put an offer on a building.

“That was not a planned event,” Barringer replied, saying he believes the opportunity just happened to come up and that it was a quick decision.

He said the board is trying to stabilize several facets of the TPA, so they have to be systematic in their approach and logically evaluate the current facility.

He added that it could be evaluated and, no matter the cost, it’s just never going to work. “Whatever it is, we need to check that through this board and then define what the next step is.”

Horning said when considering this, at the very least, the board will need from Ferguson such information as the number of offices required and the square footage necessary for storage space, a property room an interview room and so on.

Therefore, consensus was given for Ferguson to reach out to an expert and seek a quote for estimated construction costs to bring the existing building in line with the needs of the TPA.