PIEDMONT — The police department’s cramped and inefficient dispatch center has long been getting a makeover with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. At its September 6 meeting, City Council approved an agreement with COAR Design Group for the architectural and engineering design at a cost of $296,555.
“There are significant needs in buildings across the city,” said city administrator Sara Lillevand. “The buildings are old and need major renovations.”
The board last October prioritized the dispatch center project, allocating $2,382,545 in bailout funds.
“These are essential services that require immediate attention,” Chief Constable Jeremy Bowers told the council. “We can’t wait another five to ten years.”
The police department has occupied the basement of Veterans Memorial Hall since 1983, which was built circa 1950. The building does not comply with the Essential Services Building Earthquake Safety Act of 1986. In other words, it is essential that the nerve center of the police department be safe and functional at all times, especially during any calamity such as an earthquake.
Bowers told the board that the department’s three or four dispatchers were in a 200 square foot space each day with about 45 square feet to operate. Social distancing during the pandemic was very difficult, he said. When a dispatcher has to use the washroom, she has to find a replacement dispatch person, because the washroom is far down the hall. The men’s bathroom is nearby, so department officials hope the bathrooms can be reconfigured in the design plan for easier access.
The dispatch center will be relocated to the Emergency Operations Center space. Lisa Douglas, commander of support services, said the old dispatch space could potentially be repurposed as an office, interview room or storage area.
“The workload for dispatch personnel has increased significantly over the past decade and will continue to increase with Next Generation 911 and other police reform efforts,” Lillevand said.
The dispatch center handles about 12,500 service calls each year, with another 1,000 calls related to the fire department, Bowers told the council.
“The existing dispatch center is severely undersized, cramped, inefficient and unable to accommodate the new technologies required,” Lillevand said.
In other cases, the panel debated whether or not to hire Bob Murray & Associates to provide recruitment services to find a replacement for Lillevand, who will retire in April. The company, a minority women-owned business, reportedly charges $35,000 for recruiting services. Gary Phillips of Murray & Associates said the firm has extensive recruiting experience.
Board members Jen Cavenaugh and Jennifer Long, however, were considering exploring other companies that offer this service. City Attorney Michelle Kenyon warned that delays in choosing a recruiter will reduce the time it takes to choose the right person for the job.
“Murray tailors its services to the community,” Kenyon said. “They are very easy to work with and very responsive. We want a new administrator in place before Sara leaves. Speed efficiency is an important factor.
The board voted 4-0 to approve Murray & Associates, bearing in mind that the recruiting process typically takes around six months.
“I find value in a business owned by a minority woman. Let’s move forward,” board member Conna McCarthy said via Zoom.
Linda Davis is a longtime correspondent in Piedmont. Reach her with topical advice or feedback at [email protected]