Demolition or renovation?

By John Earp

This past Monday, the City of Jal hosted a public walk through of the old El Paso Natural Gas building, which the Jal Police Department now occupies. City Councilor Fred Seifts was in attendance, as well as Police Chief Mauricio Valeriano, Fire Chief Nick Moody, City Clerk Molly Sanchez, and City Manager Wes Hooper.

This meeting followed an announcement at the most recent city council meeting, during which several Jal residents stood to oppose the idea of demolishing the old building. In the council meeting, problems with the old building were mentioned, including, perhaps most importantly, the leaky pipes in the foundation of the building, which will be extremely difficult and expensive to fix, as well as the asbestos in the older, vacant part of the building, which will require very costly remediation in order for the building to ever be reoccupied.

A proposed plan was mentioned, with no decision being made as of yet, of demolishing the old EPNG building, moving the police department to the old city hall temporarily while a portion of the Burke Building is being made ready as a new home for the Jal Police Department, while a new commercial building would be built on the site of the old EPNG building, with a view to it being leased to a business. No decision was made on the proposed plan, and the walk through was mentioned in that meeting, with the public invited to tour the old building and discuss the issues with city personnel, including City Manager Wes Hooper.

Two other walk throughs were scheduled, one for 5:30 p.m. Monday and one for the same time on Tuesday. A small group of about 10 Jal residents showed up Monday morning for the walk through, which lasted over an hour. Several questions and assertions were made by some of the residents present at the meeting, mostly related to the proposed plan being wasteful of the city’s resources, with an insistence from some that the old EPNG building should be saved, renovated, and continued to be used. Another objection to the proposed plan by a resident was the deterrent to speeding on Highway 18 which was felt was had with the police department being right there on the highway as opposed to being at the old City Hall on Main Street or at the new City Hall on Wyoming. Police Chief Mauricio Valeriano said the department would still patrol Highway 18 as well as the rest of the town, whether the police station was moved to another location or not.

According to Hooper, the new dispatch equipment recently purchased by the City, which will enable faster response times to 911 calls, can’t be installed in the present building it is in, and needs to be installed in the old City Hall (which is vacant) for training of the dispatchers while keeping the old dispatch system operational at the present police department building. Another issue raised by one of the residents was the fact that the City installed a new sally port on the north end of the police station just a few years back, which will not be able to be moved if the police department is moved to the Burke Building.

Only about half of the residents present commented during the walk through. Some mentioned how they had worked in the now-vacant part of the EPNG building back when the company occupied the building from the 1940s to the mid-1980s, when El Paso Natural Gas moved most of its operation out of Jal.

City Manager Wes Hooper, when asked by a resident about the cost of renovating the old building versus demolishing it, building a new commercial building on the property and renovating a portion of the Burke Building to make room for the police department there, responded that they did not have estimates yet for either of those plans, but that they were working on it. According to the announcement for the walk throughs by the City of Jal, these meetings were intended by the city to be for discussion with residents, with no action taken by the City.