City aware of asbestos at Casper Business Center; doesn’t anticipate millions in abatement costs

Casper Business Center (Oil City FIle)

CASPER, Wyo. — Casper City Council will decide Tuesday whether to authorize the $8 million purchase of the Casper Buisness Center. a building built in 1981. The city had two environmental analyses conducted early in the process of considering it as a potential new home for police headquarters, Assistant to the City Manager Jolene Martinez said Tuesday.

A small amount of asbestos was detected, but should be manageable without costing millions of dollars in abatement, Martinez said. She didn’t know whether there have been black mold issues in the building, but said the environmental analyses have been thorough and raised no insurmountable red flags.

The driving factors in the city’s interest in the Casper Business Center are its central location and its potential to become the new home of police headquarters, dispatch, municipal court and other city services at a more affordable cost than building a brand new building, City Manager Carter Napier said Tuesday.

The city is planning to use $8 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars for the initial purchase. While additional money will be needed to adapt the space to the city’s needs, the overall cost should be significantly less than the $50 million estimated cost of building brand new, according to Napier. Exactly how much the city will need to invest into upgrades at the building will not be known until the city hires an architect for design work.

“It is a 40-year-old building [but] the bones in it are very, very good,” Napier said Monday, adding the city should be able to get at least 40 more years of use out of the Casper Business Center. “We certainly do have some things to do to it.”

Upgrades to the Casper Business Center would include work to meet the technological needs of the police department and dispatch as well as work to ensure it can properly meet the police department’s evidence holding needs. Napier said that HVAC appears to be less of an issue in the building, but work to ensure energy efficiency will likely be a big task when it comes to rehabilitation.

If the purchase happens, the city won’t be moving into the building immediately. Some of the existing tenants will be allowed to temporarily stay and continue utilizing a parking garage and uncovered parking lot adjacent to the building. Current tenant Mountain West Technologies has its telecommunications infrastructure heavily integrated into the building and if the city council approves the purchase of the building on Tuesday, it will also consider a resolution authorizing a lease agreement so that Mountain West can gradually decommission its operations and move to another location.

The city anticipates that lease agreements with existing tenants should cover the roughly $200,000 in operating costs at the building for the first year under city ownership. The city estimates it will be 24 to 36 months before the building is primarily occupied by city staff, according to a memo from Police Chief Keith McPheeters.

While exact timelines remain uncertain, Napier noted Monday the new building will eventually allow the city to stop paying leases at other facilities such as the Hall of Justice or the building housing dispatch.

Some in the commercial real estate field said last week the city’s interest in the Casper Business Center might offset some impacts stemming from state agencies vacating office space across town to move into the new Thyra Thomson Office Building. Napier said Tuesday the city’s purchase might have some benefit for the downtown area from an economic development perspective, but that this was not the city’s focus when contemplating the buy.

“I would say that the opportunity to keep a large commercial space vibrant is probably more of a side benefit if you will,” he said. “[That was] certainly not our main focus.”

Rather, Napier said city staff and councilmembers serving on a committee working on the new police headquarters question were focused on finding a location that could meet the department’s strategic needs in a manner that would be financially responsible to taxpayers.

Napier said locations outside of the downtown area were considered. One option the city looked at was the possibility of building a brand-new headquarters on city-owned land near the Events Center. However, from both a strategic standpoint as well as a cost standpoint, Napier said the centrally located Casper Business Center appears to be the best option and that he thinks councilmembers who served on the police headquarters committee are prepared to help make that case.

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