HELENA – Lewis and Clark County commissioners have signed off on a plan to lease, then buy a downtown Helena building as a new home for the Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
“This seems like it’s been an awful long time in coming, but I’m very very happy to see this day,” said Commissioner Susan Good Geise.
The building, at 420 Fuller Avenue, formerly held offices for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, until the insurance company moved into its new headquarters in 2016. The city and county will pay $1.29 million for about 40,000 square feet of space. The purchase will also include 94 adjacent parking spaces.
Leaders say the sale can’t be completed immediately because they are buying only part of the property. An older building at the corner of Fuller Avenue and Lawrence Street, notable for its large white columns, is not part of the sale. The property will be legally split into two parts in the coming weeks.
The city and county will lease the building until the purchase can be finalized. Their monthly payments of $12,500 will be applied to the eventual sale price.
HPD and LCSO must leave their current offices at the Law Enforcement Center so crews can begin converting the entire building into jail space. Lewis and Clark County voters approved a bond and levy to pay for an expanded detention center.
A working group, including representatives from the city, county, HPD and LCSO, identified the Fuller Avenue property as their top choice for relocating the agencies.
Undersheriff Jason Grimmis said the building will give the agencies much more space than the 14,000 square feet they use in the Law Enforcement Center.
“People have been working in very cramped conditions for many years,” he said. “Now having a little bit more space, we’re going to be a lot more productive. We don’t have to stagger our staffing as much.”
Commissioner Jim McCormick said buying an existing building was much more cost-efficient for the county than building a new one. He said the building was relatively new, and would not require extensive renovations to be usable.
“It works well for all parties, and for the long term,” he said.
The city and county will have to make some improvements before HPD and LCSO can move in. Helena City Manager Ron Alles said he expects it will be three or four months before the building is ready.
Alles said he will sign off on the agreement on behalf of the city, so the lease can begin quickly. However, he said the Helena City Commission will have to give final approval of the deal before the purchase can be finalized. That could happen at their meeting on June 18.