Woodland police begin building

Groundbreaking for station a triumph after years of effort

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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WOODLAND -- Emotions tugged at Janice Graham as she and her family watched city officials clasp their golden-bladed groundbreaking shovels Saturday at the site where the city's new police station will take shape.

For years, her husband, Jim Graham, had served as the city's mayor and police chief and had long advocated for building a modern police station. But last February, less than a year after Woodland voters approved a 0.1 percentage point increase in the city's sales and use tax to build the 8,300-square-foot building, Graham died at 68.

Though gone in body, he's nearby in spirit. Up on a bluff overlooking the property where the police station will be built at 300 E. Scott Ave., Graham is interred at I00F Memorial Cemetery.

As city leaders dug and dished the first symbolic scoops of dirt from the site, Janice Graham said her husband would have been pleased by the project's progress.

"This is pretty amazing," she said, holding back tears. "It's just heart-wrenching. It's really important to see something like this come to term."

A new police station has been a long time coming, city officials said, with efforts beginning in the late 1990s, when Graham was mayor.

By the mid-2000s, the city had commissioned informal site studies to look at the feasibility of expanding the fire and police sta

tions. At the time, the main question was: Should the city build its police station from scratch or use an existing building?

City officials chose to move ahead with a construction project because it would give them more flexibility to expand it in the future.

But developing a new building is also something of a first for the city, which hasn't built anything from the ground up since 1971.

In the ensuing four decades, the city's population has grown by 400 percent.

With no dedicated space to interview suspects or properly store evidence, the current police station, 1,000 square feet of space at Woodland City Hall, has outlived its usefulness, Chief Rob Stephenson said.

The space hasn't changed a "whole hell of a lot" since 1971, Stephenson said. A mechanical closet doubles as the detective's office. Hazardous evidence is stored wherever officers can find some free space. And suspects are interviewed in City Council chambers, or out in the hallway.

"This is just a major big deal for us," Stephenson said. "It will be the first time that we'll have some breathing room."

Most of the new building will go to the police station, but not all. It will also include new City Council chambers, which will be available to the public for meetings.

About 6,000 square feet will be dedicated to the police station. That will include state-of-the-art evidence storage, meeting and interview rooms, and a bigger squad room.

The project would never have moved forward without the help of Woodland residents, City Councilor Marilee McCall said.

The tax measure Woodland voters approved in 2011 has enabled the city to borrow $2 million in construction bonds, which will be repaid over 25 years.

"When this gets built, it will be a monument to how our community has come together," McCall said.

The city expects to move into the new building in September.

But what would Jim Graham think of all of this?

His widow Janice said the project was a dream of his. After 36 years working for the city, much of it at the police station, he'd be proud.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com