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Fire sale: Ex-carpenters hall
Building was bought to serve as 4th fire station
The next fire station in Manteca will be built on Lathrop Road west of Union Road. - photo by RYAN BALBUENA

It seemed like a good deal at the time.

In the summer of 2007 Manteca closed a $1,175,000 deal to buy the former Carpenter’s Union Hall plus over an acre on North Union Road north of Louise Avenue.

Not only was the city able to get $475,000 off the asking price but they secured a building and a site for the city’s fourth fire station that would bring the total tab in at $2,570,000 once the conversion was completed. That marked a considerable savings over the $3.8 million price tag for a fire station at a different location.

It also gave the fire department a better location to serve the vast majority of roughly 2,500 homes in Northwest Manteca that were outside the targeted five-minute response time.

Since then, though, Manteca has gotten a somewhat better deal and a better location.

Pulte Homes donated land on Lathrop Road just west of Union Road for the fourth fire station. Unlike the Union and Louise location it will bring all homes in northwest Manteca under the five-minute response target plus the CenterPoint Business Park being developed next to the Union Pacific intermodal facility. The price tag for the fire station adjacent to Pulte Homes’ Del Webb at Woodbridge neighborhood is $3.5 million.

While the bottom line savings of getting a station open for business is $300,000 less at the Lathrop Road location the real savings is in effectively eliminating the need for another fire station in the northwest portion of Manteca based on current development plans for the next 20-plus years.

Tonight, the Manteca City Council is meeting behind closed doors to discuss a possible price for the Carpenter’s Hall. State law allows closed-door meeting for negotiations, litigation, or confidential employee issues.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin confirmed there is an interested buyer.

She conceded if the council opted to sell, it wouldn’t likely bring in the $1,175,000 that the city paid for it four years ago. It would, though, generate funds to wed with $1.6 million in the fire facilities account to go toward the station construction on Lathrop Road. The building was purchased originally with fire facility fees collected on growth. That means the receipts have to be returned to that fund if the building is sold.

City bought Qualex building for police but plans changed as well

It isn’t the first time the city has bought an existing building for a municipal use only to later either change its mind or be forced to abandon plans due to a change in state law.

The city in 2006 used $3,645,000 in redevelopment agency funds to buy the shuttered, 57,000-square-foot Qualex film processing building at 555 Industrial Park Drive. The intent was to turn it into a new police station to replace the existing 17,000-square-foot headquarters.

Exhaustive studies before buying the building showed the city not only would save millions of dollars by remodeling the facility instead of building from scratch, but it could be easily expanded and it would be a central location.

As the city got ready to move forward, state law changed regarding city jails or holding facilities. Any new facility would be required to have 24/7 guards. Manteca currently has a holding facility that does not have a 24/7 guard to watch over prisoners as their sole duty. They are still able to use it as a holding cell prior to transporting prisoner to the county jail because state law grandfathered in existing facilities exempting them from the 24/7 requirement.

Having around the clock staffing would have added over $500,000 a year to the city’s police budget. It effectively made the Qualex conversion a bad deal. While it would cost significantly less to meet the city’s needs it would sharply increase yearly operating costs.

That project would have cost the city $15.5 million when completed instead of starting from scratch on a new building elsewhere at a price of $24.6 million including land.

The city now uses the former Qualex building for storage and the parking lot for vehicle parking as well as police and fire training.

Both the building purchase and remodel plans for the fire and police facilities were an alternative to building from scratch. Rapidly ballooning construction costs and land prices at the time made starting from scratch an expensive proposition for the city.

RDA bought land on South Main Street for courts complex

In 2004, the city used $2 million in RDA funds to purchase a site on South Main Street once owned by American Modular for the purpose of working with the county to build a South County justice complex. Plans called for a minimum of four courts initially and offices for the district attorney, and public defender. But the Superior Court judges in Stockton who originally pushed for the complex pulled the rug out from under that plan and instead convinced the state instead to fund a new courthouse in downtown Stockton that has since started moving forward.

The city in 2010 successfully got the county inked to a deal that will develop a South County administrative center on city-owned land at Daniels Street and Milo Candini Way across from Big League Dreams. That project is now part of the county’s long-range capital improvement projects. The city already owned the land as it was originally part of the wastewater treatment plant site.

The land the city owns is immediately adjacent to the corporation yard that the city is modernizing and reconfiguring to take care of growth for the next 20 years. The city could take a part of the South Main Street land the RDA owns and set aside for further corporation yard expansions down the road. That effectively would extend the useful life of the current investments.

The city also could sell the land on South Main Street and Qualex building to a private sector concern that wanted to bring jobs to Manteca.