Though some of its walls still are adorned with pink floral wallpaper, the old Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana building on Fuller Avenue in downtown Helena is looking more like a law enforcement office each day.
After several months of planning and renovation work, the Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office have completed their move into the new Law and Justice Center and gave tours of their offices Monday evening.
The two law enforcement agencies were previously located in the Law Enforcement Center on Breckenridge Street, which will soon be fully renovated into jail space as a result of a $6.5 million bond approved by voters in 2016.
The new Law and Justice Center includes a 40,000-square-foot wing at 406 Fuller Ave. and a 25,000-square-foot wing at 404 Fuller Ave., better known as the Pillar Building.
The police department is on the first floor and the sheriff’s office is on the second floor of the wing at 406 Fuller Ave. City and county officials decided to buy the Pillar Building at 404 Fuller Ave., which is not yet being used, after discovering that separating the two wings would require a three-hour firewall that would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“That was going to cost so much that it made more sense to purchase the Pillar Building,” said Audra Zacherl, the county’s assistant public works director.
The city and county jointly purchased both wings of the property for $1.95 million in December and planned to spend another $500,625 on renovations, Zacherl said. However, she said the renovation work will cost more than expected due to various changes, including the city’s $51,872 change order for additional rooms in the police department.
“There’s just a handful of unexpected things that came up,” Zacherl said.
Officials from both law enforcement agencies said they have much more room in their new space, and the new evidence room is twice as big as the old one.
“What’s nice about the open area is we do have room for expansion as the budget allows and time allows, maybe five, 10 years down the road,” said police department Lt. Brett Petty.
The building also has a large training room in the basement, which means the two agencies no longer need to train their staff in schools or offsite conference rooms.
Police department officials are particularly proud of the metal signs used throughout their office, which were created by welding students from Helena High School.
While the police department and sheriff's office are the only entities operating in the Law and Justice Center so far, they soon will be joined by several other city and county offices.
Following its consolidation with the sheriff’s office in January, the county coroner’s division will move into the Law and Justice Center before its lease on North Rodney Street ends on May 1. County officials also hope to relocate the Department of Criminal Justice Services to the complex.
City officials are considering relocating the Helena Municipal Court to the Law and Justice Center in fiscal year 2020.