The Philadelphia Police Department headquarters would move four miles west, to a vacant landmark building in West Philadelphia, under a proposal that the police commissioner and mayor support.

What stands in the way of moving Police Headquarters from Eighth and Race Streets to the former Provident Mutual Life Insurance Co. building at 46th and Market Streets is a mountain of cash - $70 million to renovate the 82-year-old structure.

And with a five-year deficit of at least $1 billion looming, that $70 million is nowhere in sight.

That's why Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, put moving the headquarters high on his priority list of projects to receive infrastructure funding as part of President-elect Barack Obama's proposed stimulus package.

"It has the space, it has the size, it also has the stature I think a police administration building would need," Gillison said yesterday. "I think it would serve not only the police very well, but the city as a whole very well."

Mayor Nutter cautioned that the proposal was part of a wish list with many other competing priorities. He submitted $2.6 billion worth of requests to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in anticipation of Obama's hoped-for aid to cities.

"In a perfect world, it would be great to have a new Police Headquarters," Nutter said. "It's obviously a long way from happening, but when you get asked for a wish list, that's the list."

This month, the city essentially took back the stately limestone-and-steel building, now called the Center for Human Achievement, and its 15-acre campus from the Urban Education Development Research and Retreat Center, a nonprofit headed by State Sen. Vincent Hughes.

The nonprofit, which wanted to make the building an anchor of revitalization in its neighborhood just west of University City, owed the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. and the Philadelphia Commercial Development Corp. just under $6 million for the property.

The city has announced that it will build a new Youth Study Center, the detention facility for juveniles, on five acres of the site. The property has been pushed for a new high school or Family Court.

For his part, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey walked into his new job this year, took one look at the cramped headquarters, built in 1963, and wanted out.

"I've never seen anything like that, and that's not a positive statement, it's a very negative statement. It's just not a good building," he said, citing cluttered hallways filled with file cabinets and a homicide division where witnesses share space with suspects.

He's not the first police chief to broach the subject. In 1988, Police Commissioner Kevin M. Tucker wanted to sell the Roundhouse, as Police Headquarters is popularly known.

"The building probably was too small when it opened, and over the years it has gotten worse," Ramsey said.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, called the headquarters inhumane.

"It's a disgrace," said McNesby, who said that the homicide unit was routinely infested with fleas and that the building was blistering hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.

McNesby said the ideal headquarters would be more centrally situated. But "if it's going to bring back some dignity, and make the cops feel better about going to work, that's fine," he said.

Gillison declined to comment on what might become of the Roundhouse if police moved out.

Ramsey toured the proposed new home three weeks ago and found it to be solid, roomy (325,000 square feet), and in a neighborhood that could use it.

"You're definitely right out in the neighborhood, and I think that sends the right message to the community," Ramsey said.

He envisions moving not just police administration there, but homicide, narcotics and other units, and the 16th Police District. Ramsey said the condition of the building might allow some units to move in within a year.

Provident Mutual constructed the building in 1926, then donated it in the 1980s to the Urban Education Foundation, a nonprofit partnership between Lincoln and Cheyney Universities.

The cost of operating and maintaining the building proved too high for the group, and in 1993, a deal was worked out to sell the building to another nonprofit, Hughes' Urban Education Development Research and Retreat Center.

The Colonial Revival building looks impressive from the outside, but its interior has been crumbling, and tenants largely have been government agencies, such as the Job Corps, and government-funded programs.

Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell did not welcome the neighboring Youth Study Center, which she regarded as a jail, to a struggling area of her district. She called the police proposal a great idea.

"It would really be a help," Blackwell said. "People would not be so fearful, and they would feel safer."

Gillison said he was analyzing the site and whether his idea was viable.

"We're at the very beginning of what would be a very long process to see if it could truly meet the needs that we have," Gillison said. "It is the beginning of a campus for public safety that, I think, is sorely needed in the city.

"It's something that I'm trying to very seriously make happen."

Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.