Workshop touches on moving multiple Port Arthur services to new buildings in a centralized location

Published 12:28 am Tuesday, February 14, 2023

A longterm plan to build a new animal shelter in Port Arthur recently led to a workshop where city leaders discussed the possibility of also building facilities for additional departments.

Councilmembers and city staff met this month to discuss a presentation given on Dec. 6 from representatives of PGAL, Inc., in which the architectural firm presented proposed layouts for a new shelter as well as a municipal safety complex that would house the municipal court as well as police and fire departments currently located on 4th Street.

The additional building and departments raised questions from councilmembers. On Feb. 7, a workshop was held to address them.

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Moving the shelter

The construction of a new animal shelter is part of a $32.9 million capital improvement project in which $9.9 million was allocated to the shelter and the Port Arthur Public Health Department, which will soon be relocated to 9th Avenue.

The current animal shelter, riddled with overcrowding, was built in 1978 to house 30 animals.

In May 2021, councilmembers approved a resolution authorizing PGAL to perform a feasibility study at a former wastewater treatment plant located at 1401 19th Street. Four 10-feet-tall concrete walls were found buried under the ground, and the location was deemed unsuitable for construction.

With the stipulation that the shelter must be built on city-owned land, councilmembers then approved using about 15 acres of land on Gates Boulevard that once housed St. Mary Hospital. Following the buildings demolition in 2019, the land was gifted back to the city.

On May 24, 2022, council authorized PGAL to develop a facilities master plan for the Gates Boulevard site.

“The purpose of that facility’s master plan was not only to concentrate on the animal shelter, but also identify other uses for the city and what can go on that 15-acre site,” said Assistant City Manager Pamela Langford. “After speaking with various members of staff, the police department continued their discussion with the city manager’s office and leadership regarding their needs for expansion and commendable spaces for them.”

Langford said the police department has grown out of their current building, which also has structural issues such as a leaking roof.

Originally the idea was to move the department to the building on 9th Avenue that is currently under construction as the new health department.

“We wanted to ensure these services remained centralized,” Langford said. “We are trying to plan for the future. We do understand that moving these resources out of the downtown area of Port Arthur and making them more centralized is not something that would happen overnight. We are talking about a plan that would possibly be implemented years down the line.”

Moving additional services

Mayor Thurman Bartie referenced comments he made Dec. 6, saying he couldn’t support moving services out of downtown, particularly during a focus on revitalizing that area.

“Why would we remotely consider this proposal and vacate an area that we actually want to redevelop?” he said. “Now, when I ask that question, it’s rhetorical in one way, but also it’s something that I believe can also be thought of in a more tangible means, because we are in Port Arthur. We are here in Port Arthur and we actually see what has happened to Port Arthur through the year. It’s not what I envision for Port Arthur. But I’m only one vote. I’m only one person.”

Councilman Thomas Kinlaw said since he joined council in 2017, the city has spent a large amount of money on the police department, fire department and municipal courts in relation to space and maintenance.

“When I talked with the city manager a couple of years ago, I asked him to plan for the future, and he’s done exactly that,” Kinlaw said. “He’s tried to find ways that we can grow. The city is now turning that ship around that we can get back on path. We all have to look at these things when we make decisions for the greater need for our community.”

A centralized location for emergency services, he added, would reduce response times.

“I have to say, since 2016 and serving here on council, it’s very inspirational to hear that we have the possibility of growth in our city to serve the entire city of Port Arthur. I am looking forward to new buildings,” said Councilwoman Charlotte Moses. “I know what the buildings look like at the police department. I’ve walked through them. Their roof is leaking, garbage cans catching the water from the roof. The fire department needed new facilities. And moving forward…whether we’re downtown, I look at maybe a satellite office here, but wherever we can be centralized. It’s not about one sector of a community. It is actually about the whole city benefitting from us being centrally located in a place.”

Moses said she is open-minded to having the Gates location as the new center of the city.

“Everybody has a voice, and my voice is to be able to have an open mind, to be able to see our police department come out of that wretched building and to be in a place where they can be free to move and free to have the evidence properly stored,” she said. “Let the citizens vote. Let the citizens have a voice in what they would like to see.”

Councilman Donald Frank also mentioned other city services.

“We cannot forget those individuals who are being housed in our solid waste and trash departments,” he said. “Those buildings are atrocious, and they have been atrocious for a long time. And I don’t want to publicly state what they have to endure in those facilities.

“As we’re beginning to think about how we’re going to spend money for those facilities and on what facilities, I think that building needs to go to the top of the list because those individuals have endured that for such an elongated period of time and they have to endure it on a daily basis.”

City Manager Ron Burton said, following council’s approval to allocate funds for building upgrades, the city is looking at moving those services as they’re in a flood zone.

“The last time it happened, we lost all our equipment that was left there,” he said. “The facility was designed maybe 40 years ago, and it looks like something that was designed for people who live in a penitentiary. And that’s just not acceptable.”