Officials get look at North Little Rock police complex

They take virtual tour of site

Employees of Hoefer Wysocki, an architectural, planning and interior design company from Leawood, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, have designed a rendering of the North Little Rock Justice Center. The Justice Building will be in the 2600-2700 blocks of Poplar Street, where the Arkansas National Guard's Fisher Armory and the North Little Rock School District administration building are now.

The North Little Rock Justice Building will unite the city's Police Department under one roof for the first time since the early 1990s, city law enforcement officials said.

North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, and city council and law enforcement members took part Thursday in a virtual tour of the planned facility led by Hoefer Wysocki, an architectural, planning and interior design company from Leawood, Kan., that is working on the complex. Officials hope the complex will be completed by late 2020.

The justice center will be in the 2600 and 2700 blocks of Poplar Street, where the Arkansas National Guard's Fisher Armory and the North Little Rock School District administration building are now. The city agreed with all parties last year on a land exchange, plus a $500,000 payment by the city to the school district to acquire the properties.

Using computer software, the firm showed every part of the proposed 80,000-square-foot complex that will feature a sleek brick-and-glass exterior.

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LED lights will surround the roof of the two-story building, which will allow the facility to be lit up at night. Also, the colors of the lights can be changed easily, said Ken Henton, the principal in charge at Hoefer Wysocki.

"There is lot visibility from the highway," said Chris Krumrei, a designer with the firm. "We wanted to establish this was the face of North Little Rock."

Replacing the city's police and courts building was a big part of a sales tax package that the city put to voters in 2017. The current building at 200 Pershing Blvd. dates to 1961, when the Police Department had about 100 fewer officers. The courts annex was added in 1964.

North Little Rock voters approved the 1% city sales tax in August 2017 that included a five-year, one-half percent tax that would go toward building a new police and courts building, improving fire stations, and correcting street and drainage problems citywide. The tax was projected to raise $20 million for the new police and courts facility.

Design team members worked with police administrators and judges to determine what best met the wants and needs for a justice center that is intended to last into the next half-century.

"I would say we had 90% of the input on the design of the building," Capt. Jay Kovach said. "We got input from officers to receptionists on the design. Then Hoefer Wysocki brought their experience to bring the ideas to life."

The idea of unity is spread throughout the design of the building. Currently, the Police Department is spread over five campuses and four substations throughout North Little Rock.

For example, the new center will have two entry points in the back, one under a canopy and another in the center of the building.

Such features were done on purpose.

"We are trying to create elements of the design that unify the department again," Henton said. "Get people to interact on a day-to-day basis. Trying to get the parking lot set up where everyone filters into the same entrance together, just by getting people to come through the same door, is one goal to create unity amongst the force that has been separated for quite a while."

A community room also will be located at the front of the building that can hold about 100 people. The area will be available for public use and will have movable tables and chairs, along with a large kitchen. The room will be secured from other parts of the police headquarters and court offices, which will allow it to be used anytime.

"The idea is complete flexibility," Henton said. "We don't know if there will be Boy Scouts in there or a community group or whatever the situation might be.

"I commend the city for getting a community room because community policing is so big in so many communities now. For someone to be able to use this facility that the city provided for them really helps people and the police interact with each other more."

Monitors will line the walls leading to the courtroom and display court docket information to make the courtroom operation more efficient. There will be two courtrooms in the building. One courtroom will be large and formal, and the other will be a smaller space that can hold about 40 people, Krumrei said.

"We have noticed when people walk into places like this they usually censor themselves because it is so formal," Henton said.

The north side of the building will have public parking, while the south side will be gated parking for law enforcement officers and officials.

"It will be secure back there, which is an important feature, and probably the most distinguishing differences between what you are in right now and what you are going to be in," Henton said. "I think the judges, after they assign someone a ticket, would probably like to not have to go to the same parking lot. Same with the officers."

Areas of convenience will be scattered around the buildings, which will allow law enforcement officials to work out, sleep, cook and go through digital training without leaving the center.

"When cities have come in and built new buildings in areas, amazingly the entire area starts to upgrade on their own," Henton said. "They want to improve the quality of their businesses too. It can improve the quality of the local community, and what a great space for all the activity that is going by on the highway for that to happen."

Kovach said once the building is finished, the city will close five of the nine structures the Police Department is currently using. Substations will remain open and manned.

"We aren't wholesale closing the substations," Kovach said.

Bidding for construction will open Oct. 21, Kovach said, with a builder selection expected in late November.

State Desk on 10/13/2019