Crime lab, evidence storage not moving into new building
Old Public Safety Building • Evidence storage, crime lab must stay put for now; city leaders aim to sell the building.
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Salt Lake City leaders have discovered they won't be able to move as quickly as they'd like on plans to sell the current Public Safety Building.

The problem is that the facility won't be completely vacant after the new state-of-the-art $125 million Public Safety Building (PSB) opens for business in the next few months. The city cut funding for two police divisions — evidence storage and the crime lab — out of the bond package that was approved by voters to build the new PSB.

Now those units and their staff have become figurative orphans inside their current digs in the existing building at 315 E. 200 South.

Salt Lake City's crime lab is old and inefficient. The evidence-storage facility, tucked away in the basement, is vulnerable to floods and sewage spills.

The two units were initially included in the first $192 million bond package on the ballot in 2007 — one that voters rejected — but were subsequently cut.

That was for good reason, said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. "This is downtown space," Becker said of the new PSB. "It's very expensive space, and it's a very expensive building. There's no reason in my mind to build [on a] super-expensive space downtown for a warehouse function."

When the pared-down PSB bond package passed in 2009, city officials envisioned the evidence-storage function and the crime lab moving to a new building by mid-2013, when the PSB was expected to open. But that didn't happen for various reasons, Becker said.

"We're going to get those functions moved out of the old building very quickly," Becker said, adding that he wants it done within months.

In the meantime, the Police Department will make some modifications to the old PSB and create a new process during regular business hours for people to retrieve evidence and lost property, said Capt. Carroll Mays, who heads the crime lab and evidence divisions.

"We're hoping to make it as safe and secure for our people as we possibly can," he said.

Becker said he wants the existing PSB sold — it's appraised at between $10.3 million and $11 million — and the money into city coffers as soon as possible.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, but that won't prevent remodeling as long as the owner isn't using federal funds, said Barbara Murphy, deputy state historic-preservation officer.

"It doesn't come with any restrictions," she said of the sale. "You can demolish a building on the National Register."

There are no restrictions on the property, either, officials said.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said one solution the city is considering is moving the crime and evidence divisions to a temporary facility. The city might also partner with West Valley City — and possibly other agencies — on a joint crime lab and evidence-storage facility, Burbank said. There are no estimates yet on what that would cost.

Because the state crime lab has a backlog of cases from nearly 140 agencies, the city wants its own lab to get tests done quicker.

Burbank said keeping the evidence storage and crime lab out of the new PSB bond package was the best use of taxpayer money.

jstecklein@sltrib.comTwitter @sltribjanelle