HELENA – Contractors and architects are working together to make plans for renovating a downtown Helena building that will become the new home for the Helena Police Department and the Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
Lewis and Clark County Administrator Roger Baltz said the county commission selected Sletten Construction as a general contractor. They will handle the renovations on the building at 420 Fuller Avenue – now being called the Law and Justice Center – as well as the larger project to convert the entire county Law Enforcement Center into expanded jail space.
The contractor will work with Slate Architecture to finalize the design for both projects and determine a maximum price for the work.
Baltz said some of the changes that will have to be made at the Fuller Avenue building include bringing it into compliance with city codes, improving accessibility for people with disabilities, and creating a secure area where the police and sheriff can store evidence.
HPD and LCSO have to move out of their offices in the Law Enforcement Center before renovation work can begin there.
“There are a number of things that we would like to do to renovate this building, but what we’re focused on is what we need to do in order to relocate our law enforcement agencies, as a first step into this building,” said Baltz.
City and county leaders will have to make some decisions about the Fuller Avenue property going forward. Earlier this year, they signed an agreement to split the former Blue Cross Blue Shield property into two parts – one including the 40,000-square-foot newer section of the building and one including the older section known as the “Pillar Building.” They leased the newer section, and planned to purchase it after the division was completed.
However, leaders discovered that, if they broke up the property, city codes would require them to install a so-called “three-hour firewall” – intended to prevent a fire from spreading for at least three hours – between the two parts of the building. Baltz said that would cost several hundred thousand dollars, and they dismissed that as cost-prohibitive.
“Both this project and our detention center project, we have the money that’s been authorized by our citizens to get those projects done and we’re working very hard to be good guardians of those dollars,” he said.
For now, Baltz said they will continue to lease the space they already have. He said they haven’t yet had formal discussions about what to do in the long term, but that they will consider options like purchasing the Pillar Building or sharing ownership of it with the current owners.
Right now, though, Baltz said the top priority is to finish the renovations they’re already planning, so the police and sheriff can move as soon as possible. He hopes Sletten will be able to begin remodeling the Fuller Avenue building in October, and that the agencies could move in by December.
- Reported by Jonathon Ambarian