By Aziza Jackson
HELENA, Mont. — Officials from the City of Helena and Lewis and Clark County are considering the purchase of both wings of a former Blue Cross Blue Shield building as the new home of their law enforcement offices.
According to the Independent Record, the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Helena Police Department currently share the Law Enforcement Center on Breckenridge Street with the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center. The Independent Record reports that in 2016 voters approved a $6.5 million bond to turn all of the center’s floors into detention space, which would ultimately expand its current inmate population, nearly doubling it from 80 to 156.
Because of the renovations to the current center and the expansion of its detention space to include the entire facility, city and county officials have their sights set on the north and south wings of the former Blue Cross property.
The city and county reportedly entered into a lease on May 29 with the intent to purchase the north wing of the former Blue Cross property, 406 Fuller Ave., by the end of 2018. The 40,000-square-foot property would also reportedly come with 94 parking spaces at a cost of $1.29 million. Lease payments were reportedly set at $12,500 per month.
According to Lewis and Clark County’s Chief Administrative Officer Roger Baltz, city and county officials are also considering purchasing the south wing of the property located at 404 Fuller Ave., which is reportedly recognizable by its characteristic white pillars.
“Even from day one, there was conversation about whether it might make good sense to purchase this entire property,” said Baltz to the Independent Record.
The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office is the chief law enforcement agency in Lewis and Clark County. It is comprised of over 80 employees including sworn officers, detention officers and professional support staff. The Sheriff’s Office provides general law enforcement, detention functions, rural fire support and search and rescue operations in a service area of over two million acres. Additionally, this agency provides specialized regional services to the entire county and contract law enforcement to specific areas.
The Lewis & Clark County Detention Center is designed to house 58 beds, but runs at an average daily population of 82 beds.
The Independent Record reports that Lewis and Clark County contracted Sletten Construction Service of Great Falls last month to renovate the north wing of the former Blue Cross property at 406 Fuller Ave. Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office will reportedly use the top floor and the Helena Police Department will reportedly use the main floor, with a basement and subbasement used for storage.
Baltz reportedly said the idea has been floated to charge for parking in the lot attached to the pillar building, which could generate $30,000 or more per year to help fund maintenance or pay for the property. Baltz told the Independent Record that purchasing the property would give city and county officials the opportunity to relocate Helena Municipal Court in the future. The municipal court is currently housed at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse on Broadway Avenue.
“One of the things that we’ve talked about in the past is that we may add another … Justice of the Peace judge,” said Baltz to the Independent Record. “The space in the courthouse is tight now.”
A report from the Independent Record contributed to this story.