Argument at Elkhorn public meeting spills into hallway

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Ted Sullivan
September 30, 2008
— The Elkhorn police chief had to break up an argument Monday between taxpayers and the city’s architect after a public meeting on the cost and location of a new police station.

A group of local residents and John Sabinash of Zimmerman Architectural Studios disagreed on the cost of moving the police department downtown into the west wing of the old courthouse, leading to a heated exchange in the hallway.

While the architect was exiting the meeting, a few residents told him to get out of town and accused him of lying and inflating the cost to earn a higher commission.

They cussed and told him he was biased.

Sabinash initially ignored their attacks, then dropped his briefcase, turned around and said, “You want to make this personal?”

Elkhorn Police Chief Joel Christensen then stepped between the men before the argument escalated.

During the meeting, Sabinash told city officials it would cost $3.35 million to remodel the old courthouse into a 15,000-square-foot police station, but local residents claim it can be done for less than $1 million.

The architect told city officials they also could build a new $4 million facility in Tasch Park away from downtown, but local residents are against new construction.

City officials are considering both locations and will decide at a meeting in October where to move the police station.

Both sides agree that a larger police station is needed, but the debate has stalled the project that has been in the works for four years.

“Not using the existing courthouse is a great disservice to downtown … and a great disservice to taxpayers,” Richard A. Howarth Jr. said. “There is substantial space over there for a new police department.

“I would be proud if that were where it was, and I think downtown would be proud.”

Gary Wallem told city officials the architect’s cost estimates for remodeling the old courthouse were false.

“These aren’t the real numbers,” he said. “That building would work. That’s a great building.”

The police station, located at Washington Street and First Avenue, has been at its current location since 1988.

The city in 2004 considered moving the police department into the west wing of the old courthouse. Officials dismissed that plan after learning the department would outgrow the building in less than 10 years.

The city then decided to construct a police station across the street from its existing location in Tasch Park.

The initial plan was to build a 33,000-square-foot police station, but the size has been cut three times to a 15,000-square-foot building to save money.

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