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City dedicates long-awaited justice complex

DULUTH - Randy Belcher had to speak up over the sounds of hammering, but the Duluth police chief said he's excited to finally come this close to a new public safety complex for his officers.

On Friday, the city held a dedication ceremony for the building on Buford Highway, even though it will be at least a month before the force moves into its new headquarters.

Mayor Shirley Lasseter said the completion was delayed because of the weather, scheduling subcontractors and the holidays.

The new complex, she said, not only fulfills a long-awaited promise to the Police Department but also could help in the city's desire to revitalize the Buford Highway corridor.

"Our police officers have the hardest job. ... Every morning when they go to work, their lives can be put on the line. It takes a different mind-set. It takes a different heart," Lasseter said. "We appreciate what you do on a daily basis."

As he stood behind the city seal, the only portion of the granite floor not covered to protect it from construction debris, Belcher said the new building had been promised for most of his 30 years with the department.

"It'll be amazing to have hot water to wash our hands in. It's the little things that mean a lot," he said with a laugh. "I've been waiting a long time for this building."

When the building opens, Judge Charles Barrett, a former councilman, will begin holding court four days a week instead of two. Officials said that would reduce a burden on City Hall, where people now line up along West Lawrenceville Street to wait for their appearance before the judge.

Lasseter said the police force got its new building before the government gets its new municipal office. Work on a new City Hall is expected to begin in 2006.

"Hallelujah, we finally have it," Lasseter said at the end of the ceremony.

Officials said the timing of the dedication was ideal despite the ongoing construction because Councilwoman Maxine Garner played a key role in the building, spending hours working on the plan. In November, Garner lost a re-election bid, so after the dedication, the city held her going-away party in the basement of the building.