Old Blue Cross building (copy, 12-3-18)

The former Blue Cross Blue Shield building on Fuller Avenue, future home of the Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office. The Helena City Commission voted Monday to amend the joint city/county lease on the property to include the Pillar Building (at left) and its attached parking lot.

The new Law and Justice Center grew by 25,000 square feet Monday with a vote by city commissioners to expand the city/county lease on 406 Fuller Ave. to include the property at 404 Fuller Ave.

Commissioners approved 4-0 the amendment of the city’s May 29 lease signed with Lewis and Clark County, drafted with intent to purchase the north wing of the former Blue Cross property at 406 Fuller Ave. by the end of the year. Monday’s amendment expands the lease with intent to purchase to include 404 Fuller Ave., better known as the Pillar Building, and its attached 42 parking spaces.

The addition brings the Law and Justice Center property to a total of about 65,000 square feet, 136 parking spaces and an appraised value of $1.95 million.

The 404 Fuller Ave. property and lot were appraised at $660,000. Lewis and Clark County commissioners voted unanimously Nov. 27 to add the Pillar Building to the lease.

In 2016, Lewis and Clark County voters approved a $6.5 million bond to expand the county detention center’s capacity from its current 80 inmates to 156. Doing so requires renovation of the entire Breckenridge Street Law Enforcement Center into jail space.

Before that renovation begins, the Law Enforcement Center's other tenants, the Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office, must relocate to the Law and Justice Center. County administrative officer Roger Baltz said Friday that contractor Sletten Construction Co. of Great Falls has targeted Jan. 18 for 406 Fuller Ave. to be issued a certificate of occupancy.

Discussion of purchasing 404 Fuller Ave. began in earnest when officials started looking into the legalities of separating 404 from 406. It was found that separating the two would require a three-hour firewall, per Helena city code. Installation would cost, by Baltz’s estimate, “several hundred thousand dollars.”

A closing date of Dec. 14 has been set for the property, keeping in mind that the lease on 406 Fuller Ave. with owner Cottonwood ALC allows all lease payments to be made toward the purchase price if the property is purchased by the end of the calendar year. If a purchase is not made in time, only half of the $12,500-per-month lease payments go toward the purchase price. According to Baltz, $75,806 in lease payments have been made as of the beginning of November.

Commissioners also tentatively approved an interlocal agreement with Lewis and Clark County to jointly operate the Law and Justice Center. However, City Attorney Thomas Jodoin was directed to work with the county on language within the agreement to assure the property be occupied “equitably” between city and county.

The agreement will be voted upon Thursday by Lewis and Clark County commissioners.

Commissioner Ed Noonan, a board member of Cottonwood ALC, abstained from Monday’s vote.

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