Long Beach is that much closer to seeing the former Army Reserve Center transformed into the long-awaited East Division Police Substation in the city’s 5th council district. City councilmembers earlier this month voted in favor of zoning changes for the former reserve center, and these changes now clear the path for the proposal to build a new police substation and juvenile detention facility at the Schroeder Hall U. S. Army Reserve Center located at 3800 E. Willow St.
According to the project description available in a city staff report, the substation will be home to the estimated 125 employees in the East Division who cover a 24-square-mile territory and serve about 170,000 residents.
The report described how the same building will also house facilities dedicated to at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. Although the Juvenile Investigations Section will also be located at Schroeder Hall, its operations will be separate from those of the police substation, according to the report. A staff of about 27 persons will be working in the juvenile facilities.
Right now, the 4.68-acre site is vacant, surrounded by tall fencing. Intimidating white, rusty metal bars at the front gate block any pedestrian traffic from getting close to the red-brick buildings. Just inside the front yard, a small branch has fallen among dead autumn leaves which blanket the entrance.
The zoning change was a necessary step for City leaders to take before the property is transferred from the federal government to the City. That transfer has not yet taken place. One key document is in the hands of the Army, according to Michael Conway, the Director of Business and Property Development for the City of Long Beach. He confirmed in an email Thursday that construction plans are “near 90 percent,” adding that specifications will soon be prepared and that the City will “expect to release an invitation to bid before the end of the year.”
Conway added that the expected-five-month construction’s anticipated start date is in March or April of next year. The move into the new facility is scheduled for August or September of 2014, he said.
Some things at the old Army Reserve building won’t change much. According to the staff report, there will be “minimal changes” to Schroeder Hall’s exterior, and the design plans call for repair of the original windows and doors. However, there are other key changes anticipated for the building. A proposed new elevator tower will provide access to the second floor on the east side of the auditorium. Also noted are plans for a catwalk to connect the elevator tower to the two building wings, according to the staff report. The report also states that the parking areas will be repaired, slurry-coated and re-striped.
It’s taken several years for the substation proposal to progress this far. A mental-health facility dedicated to the homeless had been initially proposed to be situated close to the substation. However, after some residents voiced sincere opposition to the facility since it would be located so close to their homes, the City earlier this year negotiated to have the mental-health program operate from a building located at 1955 Long Beach Blvd.
Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization, plans to renovate the old warehouse building at that location to serve the homeless population.
The building is a vast, empty space for now, said Dave Pilon, the president and CEO of Mental Health America, in a phone interview this week. He noted that his organization will be modifying the building to accommodate more than just space for counseling. The building will house the organization’s administrative offices, a community meeting space and even a restaurant.
Pilon confirmed that his organization has engaged an architect for the design overview but will be looking to put the full design out for the bidding process. He added that they would like to begin construction for the mental-healthcare facility no than October 2014.
At a Council meeting early October, 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske seemed pleased and a little relieved that the police substation was a step closer to reality. The East Division Substation had been operating out of a leased facility on Los Coyotes Diagonal, and the City had been paying rent.
“I do think, quite honestly, that this has worked out to be in the best interest of all the community,” she said, noting that the City will get a new substation and won’t any longer have to pay for a lease. “I think that is going to be an economic plus, and I also want to thank the city manager and his staff for having worked out also a solution that was acceptable to all parties regarding accommodation of the homeless services program.” ß