City takes properties near campus to build new police station

Confiscating East College Avenue properties

Confiscating East College Avenue properties

Kent City Council is poised to take the last four of 12 houses on East College Avenue, which the city needs to build the new police station, scheduled to be completed by spring 2017. 

Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala said Friday that the council is scheduled to vote on taking the four properties using eminent domain at its next meeting Oct. 15. 

The properties, located at the end of the road across from Franklin Hall, include 223, 225 and 227 East College Avenue, owned by  S.M. Poulton, Ltd., and 233 East College Avenue, owned by S.M. Templeton, Ltd. The majority of the properties are currently used for student housing.

Fiala said the council met with the property owners in executive session Oct. 1 to answer questions about why the city needed the properties for the new station, which is to be located on the southeast corner of South Depeyster Street and Haymaker Parkway. Ward 3 Councilman Wayne Wilson said city council postponed voting to buy the properties while the ordinances to obtain the properties were rewritten. 

Council used eminent domain, or taking private property for public use, when it purchased other properties on the road in August. The money that will be used to build the police station comes from an income tax increase that Kent residents voted for in the November 2013 elections. 

Initial opposition

When the ordinances came up for vote at the Sept. 17 council meeting, some council members and members of the community voiced their opinions about the decision to vote for using eminent domain to obtain the properties.

Steve Mileski, property manager of seven houses on the north side of College Avenue, told the council he and his wife did not want to sell the properties they worked almost 18 years to acquire.

“I’ve got some fond memories,” he said. “Christmas pictures, trees, stuff there. It has a lot of sentimental value to me.”

His grandfather moved into one of those properties in 1930, he said, and Mileski lived there in the 1970s, including during the May 4 shooting.

“When the students were shot, I lived in that house, and I remember the helicopters coming over and the jeeps,” he said.

Mileski wrote letters to the council members to express his concerns and asked to see studies on why his properties are necessary to complete the project.

“I voted for the police station,” he said after the meeting. “But I didn’t vote for them to take all of the housing where the students live.”

John Kuhar, Ward 4 councilman, said he was going to vote against the use of eminent domain due to some of the points Mileski made.

“But the thing that swung my vote from an ‘abstain’ to a ‘no’ was the fact when he said the police station is not going to be built on the north side of College Street,” Kuhar said. “So that left a void in my head because I don’t have any answer. If it’s not going to be built there, why do we have to buy the properties and tear them down?”

Tracy Wallach, Ward 6 councilwoman, said she was not going to vote in favor because she thinks the station’s design could be built “up instead of out” and be more environmentally friendly and therefore, wouldn’t need those properties.

Despite criticism, Kent Police Lt. Jim Prusha said the new location will be necessary for police to do their job more efficiently.

“It’s centrally located, and that helps in the case of emergency,” Prusha said.

Police Station plans

Also at the Oct. 1 council meeting, Jeff Meyers of David Sommers & Associates architecture firm presented some of his firm’s progress on the design of the new police station.

The current working design includes a three-story building along with a parking lot and below-ground cruiser parking, Meyers said.

Early into designing, it was key to make sure all of the more than 100 sections of the building were located in a way that made sense in relationship to each other, he said.

“The functionality, the way the officers use the station, is the most important thing about a police station,” Meyers said. “In a police station, it’s got to function, and that’s the number one thing that’s wrong with the current station.”

The proposed location will have better accessibility to pedestrians than the old police station, he said. The most recent design has an opening on the ground floor to allow access to downtown for those traveling by foot.

The layout they have designed is the product of many factors, Meyers said.

“This is showing the ideal location of where the building wants to fit in response to the sun, pedestrian access, the views and College (Avenue),” he said.

The architecture team aims to design the building to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified, Meyers said. 

According to the U.S. Green Building Council website, LEED is a green building certification program that recognizes the best building strategies and practices. Eugene Roberts, director of Public Service, said all new Kent City Municipal buildings require a LEED certification after Kent City Council made it a requirement on new government buildings a few years ago.

It is still early in the 15-month design process, and the next step is to make sure the current design is within the budget, Meyers said.

“There’s a lot of balls in the air with the budget, so it’s something to continually revisit,” he said.

Alicia Balog, Lyndsey Schley, Robert Rompala and Madeleine Winer contributed reporting to this story. Contact them at [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].