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Back to Archives | Back to January 2012 Contents 

The New Cape Coral Public Safety Facility: Overcoming the Economic and Political Odds to Reality

By Jay Murphy, Chief of Police, Cape Coral, Florida, Police Department; and Ian Reeves, Lead Project Architect, Architects Design Group Incorporated, Winter Park, Florida

he fact that the Cape Coral, Florida, Police Facility was designed and built in record time and under budget is noteworthy—but toss in tough political and economic challenges, and it becomes a case study of how to achieve a new police facility against the odds.

Located in southwest Florida, Cape Coral is a picturesque community of waterfront properties along 400 miles of canals and populated by 160,000 citizens. The city was developed in the 1960s to cater to fishing and hunting enthusiasts, and growth projections ranked it as one of the fastest growing communities in Florida. In recent years, as the economy took a downturn, Cape Coral went from a leader in growth to a leader in the number of foreclosures. In this challenging climate—almost a perfect storm of political, public, and economic drawbacks—the Cape Coral Police Department had reached a critical need for a new facility. The police department was housed in the former city hall, which had been parceled out and modified into a piecemeal public safety facility.

“We diced up the former city hall and made offices out of hallways and closets, but, as we hired more officers to meet growth projections, our facility became cramped quarters, posing significant quality-of-work-environment issues,” said coauthor of this article, Jay Murphy, chief of police and a 32-year veteran of the Cape Coral Police Department.

In 2002, the Cape Coral Police Department began looking in earnest for a new facility and hired Architects Design Group Incorporated (ADG), located in Winter Park, Florida, to do a preliminary spatial needs assessment. The assessment found the existing facility to be inadequate, posing issues with safe working conditions, air quality concerns, overcrowding, facility survivability, and functionality. Prior to the spatial needs assessment, it was known that the existing building was inadequate as outlined in a 1997 hurricane assessment report by the state of Florida.1 But it was the busy hurricane season of 2004 that publically highlighted the severe need for a new facility.

“We had water damage when Hurricane Charley came along in 2004, and we had to evacuate the building,” said Murphy. “Our officers had to work out of a youth center built to Category 3 standards. After Hurricane Charley, our community leaders understood the importance of a new facility and the idea of hiring an architect to study and design a facility.”

Through a competitive bid process, officials selected an architect.

Pushback from Taxpayers

Originally designed as a 213,150-gross-square-foot joint public safety facility housing the police department, the fire administration, and a new emergency operations center, the project came in at $58.6 million as a component of a $110 million bond referendum. It was a price tag that did not appeal to taxpayers who were already struggling with a new utility expansion assessment as Cape Coral switched residents from septic to city sewerage systems.

“The utility expansion assessment was very controversial and created a hostile environment for raising public funds for a new police facility,” said Murphy.

As a result, taxpayers soundly rejected a $110 million bond referendum for a new public safety complex despite an assertive public outreach campaign.

“We participated in a very active community awareness program; our firm helped with phone polling and mailings over a span of three months,” said coauthor and ADG lead project architect Ian Reeves. “Every time we polled households, they said that they supported the Cape Coral police and fire departments 100 percent but that there was no way they could afford to support a new facility because they had to pay for the utility expansion project.”

So it was back to the drawing board for the architect and the police department. Elected leaders were still committed to a new facility for the police department, so the city council established an eight-person Citizens Advisory Committee. For the next five months, the committee examined options for a new police facility including building on a piece of property acquired by the city through eminent domain and modifying a Class A office building for sale by a developer.

“Our firm volunteered to work pro bono alongside the Citizens Advisory Committee to reassess the proposed building programming and design. We, with the direct input of the police department, initially eliminated the fire portion of the building and then evaluated every room and value-engineered the original building from 215,000 square feet to 102,500 square feet, making it exclusively a police facility,” said Reeves.

The architect, together with the construction management firm, presented the scaled down version of the proposed police facility to the city council and received approval with one significant condition attached: the police facility would have to be finished and occupied before the start of the 2009 hurricane season. This deadline gave the architect and the construction management firm less than one year to design and build the new police headquarters.

“The city council gave us approval to build the police facility for a cost not to exceed $23 million,” said Reeves.

Competitive Bidding Process

In two-and-a-half months, the architectural team designed all of the site engineering, 90 percent of the structural engineering, and 30 percent of the construction documents package: architecture, interiors, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection. This 30 percent–finished construction documents package was then bid out to the local subcontractor community and 201 competitive bids from 47 disciplines of construction were received. Based on these competitive bids, a guaranteed maximum price of $19.1 million—significantly under the $23 million cap—was submitted by the architect and the construction manager.

With these steps completed, the architect, the construction manager, and the police department put the project on the fast track to meet the city council’s deadline of substantial completion on June 30, 2009.

“The design team finished the design documents in four months while the construction of the facility was already under way,” said Reeves. “Under normal circumstances, a project such as this takes 10 months to design and 14 months to construct. The design and construction teams worked in a hybrid delivery system to meet the unusual timeline requirements.”

Murphy agreed. “It was a true collaboration between the police department’s staff, the construction team, and the architect,” he said. “It was a challenge in that we were attempting to meet the department’s existing needs and build in future considerations as well.”

Key to a functional design that works now and into the future was the concept of relationships within the Police Department areas. The architect worked hand-in-hand with Chief Murphy and his staff to involve the police department employees asking for feedback and input on how the design could be tweaked.

“We reached out as much as we could in the time we had, asking what they needed and reviewing optional layouts,” said Reeves.

Initially, the city had a plan to complete all police facility interior furnishing, fixtures, and equipment in-house, but Murphy said it became apparent that this was not going to be a simple task. The architectural firm’s interior designers were subsequently hired to handle the facility’s furnishings package.

“The city, in an initial effort to cut costs, chose not to use the interior design firm. In the end, by having them as consultants and negotiators, we ended up with a better product and cost savings that more than paid for the firm’s services,” explained Murphy.

The Final Product

Today, the new Cape Coral Police headquarters serves as a local landmark and source of civic pride for its employees and the public it serves. It is utilitarian and modest, yet it has curb appeal with a courtyard entrance featuring a bronze statue, a water feature that doubles as a storm water retention pond, and a clock on the building’s exterior.

The facility provides 102,500 square feet of modern law enforcement amenities and work space that is secure, sustainable, and survivable. The police facility incorporates green architecture design concepts and meets all modern-day security and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) requirements.

Police department employees now have productive workstations that are eight feet by eight feet in size, and each unit within the department has ample open work areas that are intended to provide for future offices or workstations. The new facility also features a secure sally port for multiple patrol cars to securely move prisoners into 10 maximum-security holding cells. The state-of-the-art property and evidence areas have high-density storage systems within the large volume holding space. The processing labs, including the multiple vehicle processing bays, are outfitted with all stainless-steel workstations, specialized exhaust systems, and emergency eye wash and shower systems. A physical agility room is provided on the ground level near the primary staff entrance and is flanked by both the men’s and the women’s locker and shower rooms.

“Our employees enjoy coming to work in a pleasant environment as opposed to the previous location that was overcrowded with 30-plus years of wear and tear,” said Murphy, who also is an assessor for CALEA. “It gives the staff a sense of pride in their job. There is a natural flow that facilitates interaction. Their peers in the law enforcement community have been quick to compliment them on the facility and some of the innovative ideas that were put in place.”

Designed to withstand a Category 5 event and sustained 150-mile-per-hour winds, the entire building envelope (roof, walls, windows, doors, louvers, and so on) relies on large missile impact–rated systems that have been rigorously tested in laboratories to meet these stringent requirements. The exterior walls are all constructed of six-and-one-half inch reinforced concrete tilt-wall panels to provide a low maintenance durable skin to the facility. Likewise, all glazing products are large missile impact rated.

“It’s a hurricane bunker, yet we were able to get a lot of natural light in the building,” said Reeves.

The entire facility is equipped with a 100 percent backup energy source through a series of emergency generators located within the centralized energy plant. Because the new police facility is a hurricane-hardened structure, it also houses a primary public safety answering point (PSAP). The 22-position E9-1-1 communications center is jointly operated between the city and Lee County. The center serves as the backup location to the county’s primary PSAP. Funding for the specialized critical infrastructure and equipment comes from the county through its 9-1-1 surcharge fees.

“We entered into an agreement to use 9-1-1 funding with the county to finish out the empty shell for the E9-1-1 communications center,” said Murphy. “Funding amounted to $600,000 and paid for the completion of the support infrastructure.”

Case Study Takeaway Tips for Chiefs

The knowledge and the experience gained throughout the approval, the design, and the construction of the Cape Coral Police Facility can serve as a guide for any police department considering a new facility. The following is a summary of major points to consider.

1. Contract with an architecture firm that specializes in public safety facilities.“My advice to any police department is to contract with an architecture firm that specializes in public safety facilities,” said Murphy. “Law enforcement has specialized technology and security needs that present unique issues for the designer. You do not want to have to educate the architect.”

The Cape Coral police headquarters facility architect is a long-standing member of the IACP and of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. Its leadership is considered nationally recognized experts on law enforcement planning and design and recently published a book that addresses the critical issues of the design and construction process. Information in the book is a compilation of frequent lectures—given by the architect—on the topic.

Further, Murphy said, “as a police manager, you have to be willing to make that commitment of time to the project. It does not require the CEO of the agency to be directly involved on a daily basis, but there needs to be an owner’s representative, a group of key decision makers to take on that responsibility to see the project from start to finish.”

2. Build political will and public support. Invest sufficient time in developing political will and public support for the expenditure of public funds. Once you have developed an interest with policy makers, then you have to garner public and community support.

“Reach out to community groups and explain the need,” said Reeves. “Citizens will support public safety needs that speak to quality of life even in tough economic times.”

Key to political and public support is being able to distinguish between needs and wants. If the project is developed to meet needs thoroughly vetted internally and with professional assistance from a design firm, only at that point do you go for the final stage.

Spend a small amount of money doing analysis and research that will provide a working document that sets the plan forth for the public and the political leaders to understand.

3. Create a citizens advisory committee. The Cape Coral City Council, after the defeat of the bond referendum, established an eight-person Citizens Advisory Committee to examine the most cost effective way to get a new police facility. This is an effective way to build consensus and give taxpayers a sense of ownership in the project.

4. Do not reinvent the wheel. Visit other facilities recently built, and draw upon those experiences. It is money well spent. It does not pay to try and reinvent the process. Include the end users (in this case, the police department staff) in the planning and design process. Ask for their input in how to achieve a more efficient, functional workplace. Ask what their needs are to better do their job. The design process should be a true collaboration between the architect, the police department, and the construction management firm.

Make a small investment in a preliminary spatial needs assessment that can begin the conversations with elected officials. This is an inexpensive tool offering a great deal of information.

“We knew our old police facility had shortcomings, but oftentimes you have to bring in experts to validate your opinion and justify your needs to the elected officials,” said Murphy. “It took us six years from that initial document until we broke ground.”

5. Distinguish between needs versus wants. Be mindful that you are spending taxpayer money. You must clearly define the needs and eliminate the wants. Find a design team that is willing to hold the owner accountable.

“Perception is reality, and you have to convey that you are good stewards of the money,” said Reeves.

There are life-cycle costs associated with construction of a police facility, and it is important for the owner to understand that certain expenditures on the front end save money in the future.

“You are going to spend 10 cents on the dollar constructing a facility and the other 90 cents on the dollar operating and maintaining it,” said Murphy. “For example, we spent extra money on the front end for features such as porcelain tile in high-traffic areas as opposed to less durable carpet, knowing that we will achieve long-term cost savings.”

Both Murphy and Reeves said the best advice they can offer is to partner with a firm that you trust because developing a new police facility is similar to a marriage: For the next few years, you will spend a lot of time together, encounter many challenges, and make compromises to foster the vision to reality. ■

1The Lewis Report, July 1997, (accessed November 30, 2011).

Please cite as:

Jay Murphy and Ian Reeves, "The New Cape Coral Public Safety Facility: Overcoming the Economic and Political Odds to Reality," The Police Chief 79 (January 2012): 30–37.

Click to view the digital edition.



From The Police Chief, vol. 79, no. 1, January 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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