Council hears plans for renovation of Lexington's emergency center

bfortune@herald-leader.comMarch 19, 2013 

A special meeting was held Tuesday to answer questions from Urban County Council members about the city's centralized emergency operations center planned for the former juvenile detention center on Cisco Road.

The Division of Emergency Management moved into the center in July. The city is finalizing plans to completely renovate the building, where it can consolidate all public safety communications services under one roof, Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason said. These services include LexCall 3-1-1, Enhanced 9-1-1 and the police and fire dispatch operation, among others.

Four years ago, consultants gave the city an estimate of $39 million for a new emergency operations center on the Coldstream Research Campus. That building would have been larger and would have had expensive upgrades, whereas renovating the detention center will provide a perfectly solid, utilitarian building, Mason said. The city already owned the building at 115 Cisco Road.

"We're trying to be smart and use a building we have," said Rick Curtis, administrative officer for public safety.

Mason said Mayor Jim Gray and his administration took "a new look at a long-term project of getting an emergency operations center for the city" at a lower cost.

The city reduced some expense through the move.

The Division of Emergency Management had been leasing space in the old Columbia Gas building at 166 North Martin Luther King Boulevard. Moving immediately saved the city $125,000 annually, Curtis said.

"We took money set aside for rent and parlayed it into getting this other building up and running," he said.

To move the project forward, the city has obtained "significant financing assistance through vigorous efforts to cultivate partnerships with federal and state agencies," Mason said. He said Gray's "regular review of projects with a mind toward efficiency helped direct us toward a new evaluation in the utilization of an old building, rather than spending significantly more money on new construction."

The goal has been to consolidate emergency services that are in several buildings.

When renovation of the Cisco Road building is complete, it will have one large room with phone lines, computer connections and other technology that would allow personnel — fire, police, Fayette County schools and the health department — to sit and work together in a major emergency. Officials said that's an important feature. During ice storms in 2003 and 2009, agency representatives met on the third floor of the police station on Main Street. It took about three hours to get that room set up, Curtis said. "One thing that is critical in an emergency is speed," he said.

Financing for the new emergency operations center is, for the most part, already in place, Mason said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has committed $3 million for the project; the 3-1-1 call center will allocate $3 million over two years. The city's portion will be nearly $7 million over three fiscal years. That money will be bonded and included in the general fund budget as a capital fund project, Mason said.

The Department of Public Safety has taken "an austere approach in every way without cutting corners on safety," Mason said. For example, hallways will not be carpeted and will have concrete floors; ceilings will be the original concrete ceilings and not dressed up with ceiling tiles.

Curtis said officials were seeking additional federal funding, including mitigation grants from the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program. Lexington could be eligible for that money because it is one of 15 counties surrounding Madison County, where chemical weapons are stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot. Curtis said that money could be used to install heavy duty, secure windows for the emergency operations center .

Phase one of the renovation of the Cisco Road building will include demolition and design work; phase two will be construction. In the next few months, requests for proposals will go out for contractors, Mason said.

Work is scheduled to be completed in time for full occupancy in July 2015.

In addition to Gray's guidance with the project, the city hired Schrader Group Architecture of Philadelphia to evaluate the juvenile center and develop plans for renovation. David Schrader, a principal architect with the firm, has worked on about 80 emergency operations and 9-1-1 call centers, Mason said.

"David called the Cisco Road building 'an incredible gem,' that can be renovated at a huge savings to city government," Masons said.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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