Panels Reject Proposed Site for Police HQ

Posted October 29, 2003 at 6:42pm

The ongoing search for the Capitol Police Department’s new home has once again returned to square one, as lawmakers tacitly ruled out a site approved by the agency’s immediate overseers earlier this year.

In May, Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman announced that the Capitol Police Board had OK’d a site at I Street and New Jersey Avenue Southeast, but several members of the House and Senate panels with oversight of the law enforcement agency said they will not move to procure the site.

A Congressional aide familiar with the project said the Southeast plot — the privately owned land currently houses coal storage facilities for the Capitol Power Plant — was ruled out because it is “a very expensive site.”

Similar reasoning halted the purchase of another Southeast site approved by the Police Board in 2001. Officials were considering the old Washington Star building at 225 Virginia Ave. SE, but estimates to purchase and renovate the property reached more than $130 million. (Senate negotiators prevailed in deleting money for that project from the post-Sept. 11, 2001, emergency supplemental spending bill.)

“We were concerned about the cost of some of the proposals and the physical location,” Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Wednesday in discussing the headquarters sites.

The Capitol Police, currently housed on D Street Northeast near the Senate office buildings, have sought a new headquarters for years. “We have outgrown our facility,” spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel said of the more than 1,500-member department.

Police officials selected the New Jersey Avenue location from about a dozen options, using criteria such as distance from the Capitol, parking and security related concerns.

One of the ongoing challenges to locating a new headquarters site, noted House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), is the limited availability of land near the Capitol campus.

“We need to continue to look at wherever we can to find the property,” Ney said.

In fact, Members from both chambers said they do not plan to debate on which side of the Capitol to build a new facility.

“I don’t care if it’s on the House or Senate side,” Ney said. “It’s not something we should get territorial on.”

Lott made similar statements regarding placement of the new headquarters but also suggested that the current headquarters should be among the sites now under consideration.

“What about the parking lot that surrounds the headquarters?” Lott said. “That would be a cheaper, more suitable solution.”

An aide to Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, said the Capitol Police are expected to complete a cost study of that area in the next few weeks.

“There is a need for a new headquarters. … It is unfortunate that all parties have not reached agreement on the site and hopefully this latest cost study can bring us to a final decision,” Kingston said.

But Ney questioned whether the area, which includes parking lots and a restaurant, would provide enough space for a new structure.

A spokeswoman for the Architect’s office declined to discuss other sites now under consideration.

The Congressional aide noted that the Capitol Police had been appropriated about $54 million for the project so far, primarily controlled by the Architect’s office.

However, the aide noted, some of those funds have been moved to other projects. For example, $12 million was reappropriated in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill to provide funds to the Capitol Visitor Center.

As discussions over the headquarters continue, the Capitol Police are in the process of completing a strategic plan to determine staffing levels and other department needs. The outcome of that survey will likely play some role in the design of a new facility, although Members may not wait for its results before selecting a site.

“If we find a site we’ll move ahead with it,” Ney said.