As the late-afternoon sun beat down on Lilburn city officials and law enforcement personnel, the men and women gathered just off Lawrenceville Highway smiled at one another, digging their shovels into Georgia’s red dirt.

The addition of footprints to the construction site’s backhoe tracks signaled a new beginning for the piece of land on Monday, which will be home to the Lilburn Police Department’s new headquarters and the city’s municipal court.

“What we’re building here is a tool for our police force to make them more efficient,” said Lilburn Mayor Johnny Crist. “We want to give this facility to the police department to not only make (their) presence known, but as a tool to create that place of safety we all long for.”

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Monday’s groundbreaking event marked the official start of work on the 10-acre building, which will be located at 4572 Lawrenceville Highway across from the Our Lady of the Americas Catholic Church.

The project, which is being designed by Precision Planning Inc. and constructed by BM and K Construction, costs $4.9 million, though is being completely funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program, or SPLOST.

While the SPLOST funds aren’t immediately available — the money is coming from the 2017 SPLOST — the city is financing the project through the Georgia Municipal Association’s Bricks and Mortar Program, a lease-purchase agreement that officials said will potentially save millions of dollars.

Lilburn City Manager Bill Johnsa said while the building is needed for space reasons, it will also be in the area of the city that sees the most traffic.

“We want to build a police station that gives us a presence on the busiest corridor that we have in the city,” Johnsa said. “I think we have a daily volume (here) of about 40,000 cars, so this will give us a lot of presence and people will know where our police are. It’s also accessible and very easy to get in and out to respond to emergencies. We have a fantastic response time as it is, but I see it getting even better with this.”

Crist said with much of the crime occurring on Lawrenceville Highway and down that corridor, the headquarters is in the right place, strategically.

“There are several reasons we’re moving out of downtown Lilburn, number one (being) there ain’t no more room down there,” Crist said. “The second reason is because this is where the action is. In downtown Lilburn, we see the lights and hear the sirens, (but) we speed to get out here. It’s just a better choice to have our PD here than snuggled downtown.”

In its entirety, the project is expected to take about 12 months, Crist said, largely because the land was already graded and the underground structures required for the project were already in place.

“Every place we go in the city, people say, ‘Thank you for the Lilburn police,’” he said. “(Municipal police) make a huge difference in making a community a community and our predecessors have valued police presence above almost everything else, so within a year, we’ll be here cutting a ribbon and moving into our 24,000 square foot facility.”

Crime Reporter

Isabel is a crime and health reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post. She graduated from Emory University in 2016 with a B.A. in international studies. She is originally from the Boston area.

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