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Seattle Police have fancy plans for North Precinct. Critics raise an eyebrow

An expensive bunker for police. That’s the view of nearly a dozen people who criticized plans for Seattle’s new North Precinct building at a Seattle City Council meeting on Wednesday.

The proposed $160 million building includes a public plaza and space for community meetings, along with a gym, firing range and parking garage.

City officials say Seattle’s existing North Precinct facility is small and outdated. They have commissioned designs for a new one at Aurora Avenue North and North 130th Street that the Seattle Times has called the country’s "most expensive.”

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Human Services Committee, speakers like Omar Abdulalim said they’d like to see much of that money go to social services instead.

“I cannot live with the fact that you want to spend $160 million on a police militarized bunker,” he told council members. “That money can be used for youth at risk programs, the one I’ve been involved with for over 20 years out in the Rainier Valley.”

North Seattle resident Tom Barnard said the precinct designs seem at odds with a part of town that is mostly afflicted with with property crime, prostitution and drug use.

“If you can possibly explain to me how building a $160 million bomb-proof police station is going to take care of that, I am waiting for illumination,” he said.

But the wife of one police officer spoke in support of the building. Maggie Sweeney, wife of Lt. David Sweeney, said officers feel demoralized by what they view as politically motivated criticism after years of work on the project.

“We have 1,300 sworn men and women of the Seattle Police Department who are in need of our support. They are in need of us saying, ‘Yes, this building does need to be here,’” she said.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said the designers were more worried about natural disasters than bombs or threats from the public. “We’re not building a fortress to divide the police from the community. We’re just building an essential public building that will withstand an earthquake,” she said.

O’Toole said the building’s firing range will allow officers to do the sophisticated training required by a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department.

“We’re doing six times the amount of training right now that we were doing pre-consent decree," she said. "So we definitely need space to accommodate that training, and that is the new normal.”

The precinct also contains a large parking garage, for police cars and staff parking. Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien said he’d like to reduce that to shrink the project’s cost.

“It’s not too late," he said. "It’s frustrating as a council to be facing these significant policy questions at a point where they say, ‘We’ve already spent millions and millions of dollars on design work for this specific police station.’”

With council approval, construction would begin next year and the new precinct would be scheduled to open in 2019.

In April, Mayor Ed Murray announced the project could be built with existing city funds and would not require a ballot measure. He has proposed selling the Pacific Place parking garage and using the money for the precinct project.

O’Toole says SPD may continue to use the existing North Precinct building as well.

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