City-County Council panel clears way for nearly $150M in new public buildings

Indianapolis is making big moves toward nearly $150 million in new public buildings. 

The City-County Council’s Administration and Finance Committee this week advanced $10.5 million for a new solid waste facility and $7.5 million for a new firehouse—in addition to letting Indy borrow $126.7 million in bonds for a range of new buildings on the Community Justice Campus and other facilities.

Slated for the Community Justice Campus are a $40 million juvenile offender center, a $30 million forensics crime lab and a $16.7 million coroner’s facility.

City officials and employees said Tuesday that the current, cramped solid waste garage with decades of deferred maintenance can’t handle a waste program making more than 120,000 collections a week. A 99-year-old fire station in Broad Ripple can’t fit modern fire trucks through its old-fashioned bays, said firefighter Hank Harris, president of Indianapolis Professional Firefighters Local 416. In photos, concrete was flaking off corroded pipes.

Another proposal would allow Indianapolis to enter into a lease agreement with the Indianapolis-Marion County Building Authority for $126.7 million in bonds for five new facilities, said Sarah Riordan, executive director & general counsel for The Indianapolis Local Public Improvement Bond Bank.

A $16.7 million coroner’s facility would be built on the new Community Justice Campus, secured with a pledge of lease revenue and backed by property taxes, according to Riordan. The current facility and off-site storage, officials said, is too small for the number of bodies coming through. The Coroner’s Office has had to rent refrigerated trailers to make up the difference.

“It’s not ideal, and it’s not the way in which we want to operate and function,” said Alpha McGinty, chief deputy coroner. “So with the new facility, our goal is to make sure that even going into the future, that we prepare to have enough space for storage of decedents. That’s the priority.”

And as the pandemic rages, COVID-19-positive cases can’t be autopsied in the building the office currently leases because there’s no separate ventilation system. Instead, they’re done at an Indiana University building nearby. 

“It’s compromised from everything that you can possibly think of,” McGinty said of the facility.

In slides presented to the council, photos showed a rusted-out electrical conduit box for refrigeration and an electrical box that nearly went up in flames when old pipes leaked water directly on the box.

Four other city-county entities are getting new buildings through $110 million in bonds secured with a pledge of lease revenue and backed by local income tax revenues.

Indy Parks’ Frederick Douglass Park is set to get a long-sought $20 million family center, while the Marion County Superior Court will get a new $40 million juvenile facility within the CJC. Juvenile offenders would leave an aging building plagued by air conditioning problems.

Indy’s Forensics Crime Lab will get a new $30 million building, also within the CJC. Riordan said it’s expected to be done by the third quarter of 2023, replacing overcrowded spaces prone to water leaks.

In pictures shared with councilors, plastic trash bags hung over wide swaths of water-damaged walls. Chunks of ceiling had fallen to the floor. Water damage in the Coroner’s Office, above where some technicians work, had sparked a fire in a crime lab electrical box.

And finally, Indianapolis Animal Care Services is also getting a $20 million facility. Its current building has deteriorating ceilings with chunks of the walls inside crumbling or missing. 

“Anyone who has been to our current facility knows that we just have to have a new one,” Riordan told councilors. “There’s just no two ways about it. In fact, we’ve been talking about it since 2016, and now this is an opportunity for us to actually do it.”

All those projects would add up to a lot of cash—and change.

“I’m not sure that I can think, at least in recent Indianapolis history, of a comparable moment in time with as much change when it comes to public facilities and city-owned real estate,” Deputy Mayor Taylor Schaffer told IBJ Wednesday. “It’s a time of kind of massive investment and an opportunity to be really intentional about how we’re investing dollars.”

The proposals now move to the full council for consideration. The council meets next on Monday.

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4 thoughts on “City-County Council panel clears way for nearly $150M in new public buildings

  1. If so many older City buildings have severe issues due to deferred maintenance, why aren’t Councilors asking “why should we build new if we can’t maintain buildings over the long term”?

    1. Beyond a certain age, it’s less expensive to replace obsolete and out-dated facilities than repair or renovate them. Unless you want waste collection and other basic public services to come to a halt, this is a good thing.

  2. Two obvious questions a reporter should ask are (1) Will the occupancy costs of the new facilities exceed those of the existing ones? and (2) If so, what is the source of the money to make up that difference?

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