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Victims’ aid center doubles in size, cost | News | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey


The one-story, 26,000-square-foot Gilbert Family Advocacy Center has more than doubled in size – and so has the cost to build it – since it was pitched nearly four years ago.

Town Council on Tuesday, Aug. 15, will consider spending an additional $1.3 million for the project in change orders. The item is on the consent agenda and unless a council member pulls it for discussion, it will be approved without comment.

The change orders include an additional $1 million for a total of $2.9 million for Dick & Fritsche Group Architecture and an additional $310,290 for a total payout of $1.3 million to Hill International for project management.

Spokeswoman Jennnifer Harrison said the current budget for the project stood at $33.5 million as of July 1. The funding comprises $23 million from federal pandemic relief money and $11 million from the town’s General Fund.

“This is a preliminary budget and is subject to change,” Harrison said. “At present, the project team is currently refining the construction budget’s estimated projections.

“This effort stems from comprehensive research and evaluation of advocacy centers nationwide, all aimed at ensuring that our facility profoundly contributes to the realization of our desired outcomes.

“Anticipated cost estimates for the new scope of this comprehensive facility are anticipated to be ready in mid-fall.”

Included in the project’s cost was $700,000 to remove piles of dirt on the site but that figure could also change based on final design and market conditions.

“Once the design is complete, the Town will determine how much dirt needs to be removed and the associated cost of site remediation,” Harrison said.

The 7-acre site is a vacant piece of town-owned land adjacent to the public safety building on Civic Center Drive.

The land was previously set aside for the nonprofit Operation Welcome Home’s veterans memorial park. Mounds of dirt were trucked onto the site but the project never materialized and the site sat dormant. Neighboring residents have called the fenced-off site an eyesore.

Harrison also said that the annual operating budget for the center hasn’t yet been determined.

“The Town is still evaluating the optimal staffing structure for the facility, which will in turn inform the estimated annual operating budget,” she said. “One possibility under consideration is to contract with nonprofit partners to secure the provision of some of the services. Draft recommendations for the proposed annual operating budget should be available in early to mid-fall.”

According to Jack Gierak, CIP project supervisor, the recommended center will now be two stories and 60,000 square feet.

He said the additional 34,000 square feet came after the project team, stakeholders, advocates and users reconsidered the project and after touring similar centers in Texas, California and Tennessee.

Gierak also indicated a need to develop a master plan for the full build-out of the campus to ensure current and future uses can be accommodated through 2035.

Police Chief Michael Soelberg first pitched the idea of the center with an estimated price tag of $16.4 million at a council spring retreat in 2019. The chief in fall 2021 told the council that project’s cost had ballooned to $24 million.

Currently, Gilbert police uses the advocacy centers in Mesa and Chandler and hospitals for victims’ forensic exams.

The center will house a multidisciplinary team that includes law enforcement, Department of Child Safety, the prosecutor’s office, mental health, victim advocates and counselors working collaboratively on a case.

Crimes that would be investigated through the advocacy center include sexual assault, sexual abuse, child abuse or neglect, strangulation, domestic violence and those involving vulnerable adults.

The center’s purpose is to save victims from have to retell their stories multiple times, further traumatizing them, and it would save detectives travel time from having to go to the advocacy centers in Mesa or Chandler so they can work on more cases. It also will provide short- and long-term support in one location.

The center’s intent was to offer help 24/7 to victims needing acute care. It will also connect victims to services provided by community partners such as local nonprofits.

According to Gilbert Police, the town from 2015-21 saw a 66.7% increase in sex crime-related offenses involving an adult victim and a 51.4% increase involving a child victim.

During the same timeframe, there was a 121.3% increase in domestic violence offenses involving a child victim and a 66.1% jump involving an adult victim, according to police.

And though Gilbert is continuously ranked in the top for having a safe community, it saw an uptick in violent crime from 2020 to 2021.

In 2021, police reported an 8% increase in violent crime, 125% increase in homicides, 8% increase in rapes and an 11% increase in aggravated assaults.

Town officials also pointed out that a community needs assessment conducted in late 2019 ranked residents needing additional resources were victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.

The timeline for the project, subject to change, was to begin construction in fall 2024 and complete it by May 2026 with the doors opening in October of that year.

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