Fort Lauderdale fled its own City Hall after floodwaters breached the basement during a record-breaking spring rainstorm. And now, in a surprise move, another landmark building will soon be abandoned due to construction noise: Police headquarters.
Most of the department’s 750 employees will likely move to the Kaplan University Learning Center at 1515 W. Cypress Creek Road in northern Fort Lauderdale, city officials say. Fort Lauderdale taxpayers will pick up the tab for what will likely turn into a two-year stay.
The move will make life easier for the employees by giving them a quiet place to work, City Manager Greg Chavarria told the South Florida Sun Sentinel this week. Another silver lining: Vacating the building should help expedite construction of a new $140 million headquarters expected to open in 2025.
The current headquarters, located west of City Hall at 1300 W. Broward Blvd., has been home to Fort Lauderdale’s Police Department since 1958. Four years ago, voters approved a plan to replace the aging structure along with its leaky roof, tricky elevators and malfunctioning air-conditioning system.
The new headquarters is going up right next to the old. Construction crews broke ground in early July.
All was fine until last week, when Chavarria got a call from Police Chief Patrick Lynn saying the police building was vibrating and shaking, making it difficult for employees to concentrate.
Police and civilian staffers most impacted by the noise were quickly moved to the city’s police substations and other available office space. Roll calls have been taking place at police substations and the City Hall parking garage and some workers have been allowed to telecommute.
But for the long term, the department needs a quiet place to work until the new headquarters opens two years from now, Chavarria said.
The police department will maintain a presence downtown, with some employees working out of a one-story training building west of the police station at 1350 W. Broward Blvd. People can request records and reports online or pick them up in person at that location, Chavarria said.
In recent days, Fort Lauderdale has been busy negotiating the terms of a lease deal with the owner of the Kaplan building — the same site pitched by Commissioner John Herbst in late April as a potential home for City Hall workers displaced by the April 12 flood.
Mayor Dean Trantalis and other commissioners shot down the idea, saying it was important for City Hall to maintain a presence downtown. Staff is still negotiating the terms of a lease for space on the first and second floors of a building at One East Broward.
Leasing space for the Police Department at the Kaplan building is another unexpected cost, Trantalis said.
“It may cost upwards of $1 million to move them and pay rent for two years,” he said. “I don’t know where the money is going to come from. We’ll have to figure it out.”
Chavarria told the Sun Sentinel the city has money in contingency reserves to cover the cost of rent for two years or more. When asked how much it will cost taxpayers, he said it was too early to say.
“It’s being negotiated,” Chavarria said. ‘We’re trying to get the city the best deal possible.”
Dust and debris
The mayor says he got a call from the city manager last week about the construction complaints coming from the police department.
“They were complaining about the noise and the debris and the dust,” Trantalis said. “They felt it was creating an unhealthy workspace, so they wanted an alternative site. The suggestion was to move operations to Kaplan University.”
As city manager, Chavarria has the authority to sign a one-year lease without commission approval.
Trantalis says he’d rather Chavarria delay signing anything until the commission returns from summer break on Aug. 22.
“I still think we should examine this further to see how the construction is really interfering with their work,” Trantalis said. “I don’t want this to be a consolation prize to (the Kaplan building owner) because we didn’t move our City Hall there. I think we should see where this is coming from. The city manager’s heart is in the right place, but I think he should come to the commission for final approval.”
On Thursday, Chavarria told the Sun Sentinel he plans to do just that.
But Herbst said he’d rather see the lease signed as quickly as possible.
“If they sign the lease today they can be in on Monday,” he said. “It’s fully furnished. Desks and cubicles are available right now. I’m hoping we can get this resolved in as quick a time frame as possible.”
Herbst says he spoke to the city manager five months ago and suggested relocating the police department to the Kaplan building, well before construction began.
“I’m disappointed this is now a rush job,” he said. “The city manager called me last week to tell me they were looking at moving staff out of the building. I told him this should not have come as a surprise. Everyone involved in the construction of this project should have known this would be an issue.”
Herbst said officers and civilian workers were concerned about asbestos in the ceiling tiles getting knocked loose by the vibration.
Chavarria and two engineers interviewed by the Sun Sentinel dismissed those concerns, saying the tiles would need to be cut or damaged to release asbestos fibers.
“Unless you take a hammer and break it to release those particles in the air,” Chavarria said. “The vibration is not going to cause that.”
Fred Bloetscher, a civil engineering professor with Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, agreed.
“Asbestos only gets into the air when it’s disturbed,” he said. “If you just leave them in place, it should not be a problem.”
Some folks are also misinformed about what exactly is causing the vibration.
They think it’s due to a construction pile drilling project, but that work has not even started, Chavarria said.
“There is no drilling of piles yet,” he said. “The land is being leveled. They are compacting the soil and that requires rolling and vibration so it is level. In the future when they start constructing the foundation there will be additional noise and vibration that may also impact the ergonomic settings of the police department.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan