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Cramped Quarters at KPD: ‘We’ve Turned Closets Into Offices’ 
Deputy Police Chief Cindy Gass, like many KPD veterans, has a deep personal history with the quirky, sometimes crumbling and often temperamental 49-year-old Safety Building. 

But that doesn’t mean she’ll shed many tears when it comes time for KPD to move with the Fire Department to a new, modern, functional shared headquarters building.

“This building is like a second home to me,” says Gass, who joined the Police Department in 1979. “In fact, I spend more time here than at home.”

Deputy Chief Cindy Gass walks through the former jail.
Deputy Chief Cindy Gass walks through the former jail floor - too expensive and impractical to remodel.


Lately, since Mayor Madeline Rogero proposed a new headquarters building, Gass has been giving tours of the Safety Building to reporters, City Council members and others. Gass heads up KPD’s Management Services Division.

That the building is obsolete and outdated isn’t in much dispute.

First of all, there’s simply no room in the Safety Building, 800 Howard Baker Ave. KFD moved out years ago to ease the space crunch, and KPD has seven separate facilities away from the Safety Building. (The City spends about $237,000 a year to lease outside space for Police and Fire operations.)

When the building opened five decades ago, KPD had 219 officers and civilian employees. Now, employees number about 500.

Water leaks through broken seals, and there’s water damage to the concrete and cinderblock that can’t be repaired.

Water leaks through broken seals, and there’s water damage to the concrete and cinderblock that can’t be repaired.

Water leaks through broken seals, and there’s water damage to the concrete and cinderblock that can’t be repaired.

 Power capacity is an issue. Plug in a computer? Anticipate a fuse blowing.

“They used typewriters and radios in 1969 – there were no computers,” Gass says.

In the bowels of the building, the antiquated, original boiler system requires an almost daily restart. The backup system is kaput. (The system, even on a good day, is inefficient. It literally warms the building by boiling water and distributing steam.)

And the building is not nearly as large as it appears from the exterior. That’s because an entire floor is a former jail, used to house prisoners up through the 1980s. 

That jail floor is used for evidence storage. It’s simply too expensive to retrofit the bars and thick concrete walls into usable office space.

“We’ve utilized every square foot of space in this building, trying to extend its lifespan,” Gass says. “We’ve even turned closets into offices.”

When there’s a mass roll call, there’s no place large enough to house the officers from multiple shifts. They wind up standing outside the door.

Antiquated, original boiler system breaks down frequently.
The antiquated, original boiler system breaks down frequently.


Meanwhile, Fire Chief Stan Sharp is looking forward to rejoining his peer Police Department emergency responders at a shared headquarters. He sees many of the same service-delivery and efficiency advantages cited by KPD and others.

“This will allow us to move out of rented space into a modern City-owned facility,” Sharp says. “It will allow us to streamline and improve our operations by combining some of our facilities and having more of our staff in a single location.

“A combined facility with KPD will provide many efficiencies, including having some shared spaces and improving collaboration and communication with KPD staff.”

In her April 27 State of the City Address, Mayor Madeline Rogero proposed a new $40 million combined Fire and Police headquarters “that will meet the modern and professional needs of both departments. As we make this significant new investment in public safety and our uniformed officers, we want that investment to make a positive contribution to the surrounding community.”

The Mayor proposed a partnership with Knoxville College, in which the City would gain site control of a rear portion of the campus, demolish blighted vacant dormitories and redevelop the site as a new public safety headquarters.

The current Safety Center site off Howard Baker Avenue would be privately redeveloped by Jim Clayton and his family as a $150 million state-of the-art Science and Discovery Museum.

Posted by evreeland On 26 June, 2018 at 6:10 PM