Fayette County

Estimated price for city's safety center soars

Construction on Lexington's permanent disaster headquarters will begin in December at close to double the cost of the original estimate.

The city started planning four years ago to build the Public Safety Operations Center, which was originally designed to have 30,000 square feet at a cost of $23 million.

The new plan is to build a 50,000-square-foot facility at a cost of $42.8 million. The building will be on 16 acres at the University of Kentucky's Coldstream Research Campus.

The Public Safety Operations Center will house a permanent nerve center for public safety officials during crises, such as the 2003 ice storm. It will also include offices for the city's Division of Emergency Management, an Enhanced 911 center and LexCall.

Currently, the EOC, which is activated after emergencies and disasters, is set up in the training room of the police department on Main Street.

The price difference between $23 million and $42.8 million is huge, said Vice Mayor Jim Gray. "This is what I deal with in my world. We get something like this and we get sent back to the drawing board to reduce the cost. That's a big delta."

The size and cost for the facility grew after the city hired professional help in designing it, said Tim Bennett, the city's public safety commissioner. The original plan had been developed completely in-house, he said.

Although some space was added to move LexCall operators from downtown to the new facility, the building size needed to be increased because of a miscalculation about how much space was needed for the mechanical systems, said David Lucas, the city's E-911 director. "I missed drastically on the size of the mechanical facilities that were required."

In addition to the change in project's size, some Urban County Council members were caught off guard by the change in the building's location from 7.75 acres on McGrathiana Parkway in Coldstream to a location just off Citation Boulevard. The new site backs up to two residential neighborhoods, the Highlands and Belmont Farms.

"I am somewhat disturbed that I was not aware of this location change that obviously the residents of the area do not know anything about," said Councilman Tom Blues, whose district includes both neighborhoods. "It's sort of sprung on us full grown, completely designed with no advance word, no consultation, no reaching out."

Blues said he did not want to delay building the Public Safety Operations Center, "yet at the same time, I want to make sure these neighborhoods are treated fairly and are not negatively affected as we move forward."

The decision to switch sites was made about four months ago, before the council's summer break, Lucas said.

The city approached UK for another acre at Coldstream when the university offered the 16-acre site to the city at the same terms, a 99-year, $815,850 lease, Lucas said.

The new location is a better site with less flood plain at a higher elevation, he said.

Construction on the Public Safety Operations Center is scheduled to begin in December, with an anticipated completion date of April 2010 in time for the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, Bennett said.