ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — St. Louis County Police Chief Kenneth Gregory told his fellow commanders he found out construction was going to get started on two new precinct stations when he turned on the news and saw County Executive Sam Page making the announcement on Sept. 21.
The projects have been in the works for more than five years, but there hasn't been much news about their progress for months.
Voters approved the money to build new precinct stations in north and south county when they passed Prop P in 2017, which also gave officers raises.
Now, just weeks before an election, Page has announced construction is about to begin on the new buildings, which has the St. Louis County Police Association crying foul and criticizing the increased costs. The police association has endorsed Page's opponent, Republican Mark Mantovani, in the upcoming election.
“It’s not a priority until there’s an election,” said Business Manager Matt Crecelius.
“We will continue to build police stations to keep people safe in St. Louis County, regardless of whether or not we're in an election season,” Page said.
Now, taxpayers are about to spend almost double what the precinct stations were originally approved for, and completion is still about 18 months away.
“The additional the additions to the police precinct, the additional features, the land acquisition and the construction inflation probably added about 50% to the original estimate,” Page said.
So, what took so long?
County leaders projected the cost of the precinct buildings at about $13.5 million during the 2017 Prop P campaign.
Crecelius said estimates rose to about $18.5 million in 2019 to build the new stations.
Crecelius used to work in the Third Precinct along Gravois Road.
“They were moved out of there overnight because of mold issues,” he said.
Now, about 60 to 70 officers in the existing precinct station at Old Tesson Ferry and Griffin Road are working out of a 1,000-square-foot building, Crecelius said.
“It’s pretty bad, it’s pretty tight, it’s kind of a joke,” he said.
In north St. Louis County’s First Precinct, Crecelius said conditions aren’t much better. The aging building was designed for 50 to 60 officers, and now there are close to 100 working there, Crecelius said.
“It doesn't serve the public well, it doesn't serve the officers who have to work there well, it's outdated and it's cramped,” he said.
Crecelius said officers expected construction on the new stations to get started within two or three years after Prop P was passed.
The original money the Council approved in 2019 broke down to about $8 million for each station plus an additional $1.2 million in LEED costs per building, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design costs, Crecelius said.
Then, the projects started to slow down.
Page said the previous administration underestimated the cost of the precinct stations, and the police department asked for more features that also bumped up the costs.
Minority business participation
Another delay to the projects was the Council’s changes to the Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprise requirements for county projects, said Councilman Tim Fitch.
Page was the chairman of the Council that increased the county’s Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprise requirements for county projects, as well as a member of the council that later rescinded some of that language because it set the bar too high for MWBE companies.
“They set it too high, and they couldn’t participate in county projects at all,” Fitch said.
Page’s spokesman Doug Moore said the modifications to the county’s MBWE program, “Resulted in bids providing more diversity on these two projects.”
“Both projects exceeded the goals set for Minority and Women-owned Business participation — something we have been working hard on achieving since Dr. Page took office,” he wrote in a statement.
Moore estimates the new Third County precinct station will have 50.3% MWBE participation, with 14 minority- and women-owned firms working on the project.
For the North St. Louis County Precinct, 49.7% will have MWBE participation, including 15 minority- and women-owned firms.
“The goal for both projects was 41 percent,” Moore said.
When asked whether there was anything more Page could have done to speed the projects along, he said three to five years is “about a normal timeline.”
“Construction in government takes a long time,” he said.
So, why not tell the police chief about the start of the projects?
“The police chief has been involved in the process from the beginning,” Page said.
He added, “the inflationary environment that we’re in has added to the costs of the police precincts as well.”
And, there could be more delays, and costs ahead.
“We always expect that something will come up, in construction supply chain challenges or other construction delays,” Page said. “But we're hopeful that we will be breaking ground soon.”
Page’s office says a groundbreaking ceremony for the South County Precinct is scheduled for Oct. 19.
A date for the North County Precinct groundbreaking hasn’t been set.
Page said he hopes to have ribbon-cutting ceremonies at both locations in about 18 months.
And, he expects the police chief to be there.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained an error about when the County Council approved the money for these projects. It has been updated.