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Richland County looking at repurposing mall building for public safety space concerns

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 5:19 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 7:31 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Richland County public safety agencies are asking for more space, and the county council is expected to take a step to give it to them.

In a special-called meeting Tuesday evening, the council is scheduled to vote on whether to begin negotiations with a contractor over repurposing the former Burlington Coat Factory building at the Columbia Place Mall for a “Consolidated Public Safety Complex.”

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department Crime Lab, the county 911 center, and the local State Probation, Pardon & Parole agency would share the building.

The county administration lays out the concerns for the agencies’ existing facilities in the meeting agenda documents. They predominantly involve a lack of suitable space to accomplish each agency’s mission.

WIS contacted several members of the council, Chair Paul Livingston, and Administrator Leonardo Brown who all expressed confidence the council would approve the measure.

Brown said he expects the transition for the agencies to take 18 to 24 months. “You’ve heard us talk about a real focus on rebuilding public trust. I think the public may be familiar with some of the previous plans to address, kind of revitalizing that area. This would be one of those steps, something that maybe was on the table before, but didn’t quite come to fruition,” he said.

The agenda documents do not lay out which firm the county will negotiate with, or what the ultimate cost to taxpayers will be. It does state the county has created a short-list of preferred firms that it will work down if negotiations fall through.

The former Burlington Coat Factory property is owned by the county.

The contractor will be responsible for renovating portions of the facility for specific lab environmental needs for RCSD.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the department has been working toward the move for five years. He gave WIS a tour of the departments’ existing facilities, which included repurposed closets for offices and limited lab space.

He said the county is outgrowing his buildings’ capacity.

“If your mailbox gets knocked down or somebody goes into your car and steals something out of your car. We do DNA. We check for DNA on everything. We do fingerprints, so we’re able to analyze that. We’re solving cases that we never did solve without forensics, and so, as our county gets bigger and our crime goes up, we need to be able to address that,” he said.

He said his departments’ scientists do not have enough space to all work at once in the lab. As a result, department efficiency is hindered.

“It slows us down. You just don’t have the space that you need for people to adequately do what they need,” he said.

His department is statutorily required to keep criminal evidence available. It’s estimated evidence dating back to the 1960′s and 5,000 guns are in storage.

Trailers are currently being used in the department parking lot for overflow evidence.

“Right now we’ve probably got 14,000 square feet that our evidence room and forensic lab. The new building is going to have 50,000. So what we’re building for is the future, something that will last we hope for the next 30 to 40 years,” he said.

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