RIDGWAY – Unconfirmed reports received Friday morning indicate that Elk County officials may elect to relocate the county's 911 Center from its current location along Boot Jack Road to the Industrial Technical Education Center [ITEC] facility along Montmorenci Road.
"I can give the bird's eye view," said Elk County commissioner Daniel R. Freeburg. "When we looked at the options, we can't build on the site economically so let's move down the road towards Ridgway in a cornfield-- at that site, we determined we could save half a million dollars by using the existing tower. Now we're looking at another facility that has its own tower that will be used.
"We had to have the advertising of this amount but we don't have the fine tuning done, we're narrowing our sights, that's why I'm stressing that we're pretty far away now from building a new center and looking at relocating into a good structure, and it has a tower that looks to be extremely suitable. I think we're on the road to even more efficiency than we thought we'd be doing."
County officials, along with engineering and telecommunications firms, have been assessing Elk County's needs in an effort to better serve its residents with a more reliable, safe and up-to-date 911 Center.
Several individuals were on hand Friday morning for a 70-minute special meeting of the county's Board of Commissioners to address recovery zone bonds issues associated with the county's 911 Center and other construction projects for the county. Officials presented overviews of the process related to the needs of Elk County's office of emergency services which includes both the 911 Center and the Emergency Operations Center.
"Beginning back in 1991, the county selected a site for the Center based primarily on what was the best location available to construct a tower so that proper communications could be made," said Peter Folen of the East Group. "It just so happened that the property also included a residential structure and initially Emergency Services was located there because it's adjacent to the tower.
"From the beginning, the intent was that the county would identify the exact program needs based on the services provided by the office itself and the technology needed to make the facility functional."
In 2003, the Department of Labor and Industry came into the building since it did not have an occupancy permit and Elk County was then required to make at least some minimal improvements to meet the code at that time.
"Those improvements were made at that time but there were still deficiencies within the building," Folen said. "This current exercise that we're going through is a planning process that the Elk County commissioners commissioned the services of an architectural and engineering firm to look at the building components and also a telecommunications firm to look at the electronic needs of the facility.
"At that time, we were to identify the programmatic needs and to identify alternative solutions to providing a facility that met Elk County's emergency services needs in the most fiscally responsible cost that we could."
The first step in the process was to reconsider the potential of the existing structure.
"What we found was that there are significant deficiencies in the building," Folen said. "In 2004, Pennsylvania adopted a new building code and as part of that law, any improvement that would be made to any existing structure would then require that those improvements be made completely to bring the building up to the current standards for occupancy safety, et cetera.
"The current facility, we know and have found, is not constructed of fire resistant material as most houses are not; it does not have fire-protected egress corridors; so there will be significant improvements that need to be made to address those code requirements."
The building also does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Some improvements have been made in the past with ramps and so forth but there still are deficiencies in the restroom facilities so any improvements would have to also include upgrades to meet that act," Folen said. "As long as the building does not fully comply with that act, then the county is vulnerable to a suit to make that building fully accessible so that no person is denied access, and again that would kick in the other components of the code as well.
"The programmatic services needed have significantly changed, especially after the events [terrorist attacks] that occurred in 2001. The technologies have evolved and right now the facility is extremely cramped in the 911 Center, and if we need to activate the Emergency Operations Center [EOC], there's very little room to be able to include the 20 or 30 persons that would be involved to efficiently operate that at this facility."
Since the existing building has several grave deficiencies, there are significant costs associated with upgrading the structure.
"The second alternative that we were directed to investigate by the commissioners is abandoning that building and constructing a new building on-site," Folen said. "That could be done, we assessed that so that we fully understand the needs of the program, the spaces, everything involved, and we have an excellent program now to construct a facility that will meet the programmatic needs.
"It can be built on that site but through the process of investigation, we saw that to build a facility on that site is above and beyond the cost of building a facility because the site is so narrow and sloping, we'd have to do it on two stories. That's a cost of $100,000 or more right off the bat for an elevator to provide access to both levels."
A third option was finding a completely new site that had all the infrastructure and facilities directly adjacent.
"We wanted to find something so that we would not incur those significant extra costs-- something relatively flat so that we could make this a one-story building, handicapped access, and at a reasonable cost," Folen said. "We looked at four different sites, some more suitable than others, but there are some available in the immediate Ridgway area that could be developed.
For more on this story see the Dec. 4 edition of The Daily Press.