CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Police and Fire headquarters are in dire need of repair or replacement, but the Town’s effort to proceed in preparing the land for sale has hit a snag.

Town Manager Roger Stancil reported to the Council this week that a property assessment of the police headquarters building on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard found a coal ash disposal site 15 feet underground on the southern edge of the property.

“If you start developing on that site, you have the potential for disturbing that fly ash,” Stancil says. “We need to do that now consistent with whatever recommendations come to us from the state. It may mean that rather than disposing of it, we might be better to redevelop that property for ourselves.”

Fly ash is a product of combustion that is made up of fine particles that are an environmental pollutant. However, the substances that were deposited on this land should not pose a health issue, according to the assessment.

“If you have to do something to mitigate that or whether construction techniques because it’s there mean you have to build a building different somehow, that would all affect its development potential and the cost of redeveloping that property to the Town,” Stancil says. “I think that’s an important consideration as we try to decide what to do with it.”

Stancil says one concern with any work done there is the land’s proximity to Bolin Creek and keeping the pollutants out of it.

He says the property assessment came as part of the Chapel Hill 2020 plan in order to review town-owned buildings to make sure they are still functioning in line with the Town’s vision.

“That property was identified as one to examine and see if perhaps we could sell that property and use the proceeds to build a new department,” Stancil says.

The property assessment was conducted by Falcon Engineering—which has since been contracted by the Town as a site consultant—and the assessment has been sent to the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources (NC DENR).

All are in agreement that Chapel Hill needs new public safety headquarters.

“We need a new police department,” Stancil says.

“We’re just out of space here,” Police Chief Chris Blue says. “The building is just not designed to have 120 police officers and 25 non-sworn staff all working here. We were a lot smaller organization back in 1981 when the ribbon was cut on this building.”

“We’ve outgrown fire headquarters,” Fire Chief Dan Jones says. “We’ve got people using former closets as offices. We’re packed in here about as tight as you can get, and the building’s in pretty serious need of repair.”

Unfortunately, Chief Jones says that’s not all that the Fire Department needs.

“We’ve kind of reached a point in time, I think, where a lot of the public safety facilities need to be either renovated or replaced,” Chief Jones says. “We’ve got other fire stations that are (in) equal or even worse condition that we’re also working on trying to find ways to replace.”

A new facility may include fire and police management staff which would greatly reduce the costs compared to two buildings.

Chief Blue says having the staff within walking distance would greatly improve efficiency.

“I think there are great advantages for us to interact and communicate face-to-face regularly on a daily basis,” Chief Blue says. “Certainly there’s opportunity for us to share some emergency operations kind of space for when we have some kind of significant event.”

The discovery of the fly ash and coal material sets a long process in motion, as Stancil told the Town Council in an email Tuesday. However, he said the Town is prepared to follow the direction of the DENR and take any steps necessary.