County discusses communication building needs

By Xiomara Levsen, The JOURNAL


Discussed at the news conference Tuesday morning at the Washington County Courthouse was the need for a new building for the Washington County Communications Center.

?We?ve had an issue with our communications center for many years,? Washington County sheriff?s departments chief deputy Shawn Ellingson said. ?I started here in 1990 and at that time it was communications, jail, county, city ? everybody was in that building and it was packed, but we got by.?

The building was a house connected to where the jail was in the 1960s, he added. Over the years it was converted into office space and in Ellingson?s opinion isn?t structurally sound now to hold the communications center.

?Our goal is to work toward building a new building so that we can house this brand-new state-of-the-art radio equipment in something that doesn?t have a leaky roof and doesn?t have a mold issue and has adequate heating and cooling and plumbing and all that kind of stuff,? he said. ?That?s something we?re working toward also.?

Right now, county authorities have met with a few people to come up with a design and a preferred location for the new building.

?And that will be all things we move quickly on because we realize the radio equipment could technically go online as soon as July 2019, so we need to have a structure in place that we can adequately protect that equipment and house our dispatchers using that equipment,? Ellingson said.

Communications board chairman Ryan Miller said the decisions regarding the building design and location would hopefully be made quickly.

?You?re not going to put new equipment in an old building,? Miller said. ?You want that to be a state-of-the-art building, so it fits all of the government standards out there. The facility that they?re in now doesn?t meet those standards.?

They want the building to be able to withstand storm damage, which isn?t the case now, Ellingson said. They also want to be able to install the new equipment in the building.

When Ellingson was asked about a location, he said they were open to locations, but as a committee they?ve always talked about having the communications center out where the sheriff?s office and the jail.

?The design could be connected to one or the other or it could be a stand-alone, and we?re also looking at the possibilities of adding an emergency operations command center,? Ellingson said.

The county currently uses the conference room in the sheriff?s office, which doesn?t function very well and is small, which is why they?re looking into attaching it to the communications center, he added.

To build a new communications center the county is looking into several grant options, which Miller has been instrumental with, communications supervisor Cara Sorrells said.

Miller asked if one of the supervisors would like to discuss what an essential service is and why the new equipment falls under that classification but not a new building.

?People have asked that question ? essential service is in the Iowa code for the equipment ? it spells that out, so we can borrow that money and it doesn?t have to go to a vote of the people,? supervisor Richard Young said. ?Now the building is not under an essential service, so once we get the design of the building and what the cost is going to be then that?s most likely going to have to go to a vote of the people.?

There are some dates for a bond vote to be held, but the supervisors haven?t picked that date yet, Young added.

?We need to know the costs and design,? Ellingson. ?If we were going to go to a vote we obviously want people to see a picture of what it is and where it?s going and what they?re going to get for their money. We?re working diligently to get to that point.?