County Showcases Progress on 911 Center

Major building projects typically are celebrated when they start with a groundbreaking ceremony, but a wet spring made a public event almost impossible at the site of the Emergency Communications Center under construction on the Boone County Sheriff’s Department campus.

“The groundbreaking ceremony would have required hip boots for all of us,” Northern District Commissioner Janet Thompson told about 50 people gathered Friday morning for a “groundbroken” ceremony. The group stood inside the concrete-and-steel shell of what eventually will be a nearly $10 million building capable of withstanding 250 mph winds and other natural disasters.

The project is expected to include about $8 million in technology and equipment.

The building is targeted for “substantial completion” on June 1. When the project first was discussed by a blue ribbon panel appointed in 2012 to study whether the county should take over 911 and emergency management roles from the city of Columbia, county officials estimated a completion date of late 2015 or early 2016. The bid awarded in February to Little Dixie Construction of Columbia called for substantial completion by April 2016.

“We knew it was going to be a moving target,” said Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller.

The construction contract attempted to account for weather delays by including 15 rain days. Instead, the project already has experienced 41 rain days.

Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill presented an overview and chronology of local 911 and emergency management service, which began in 1977 as a cooperative arrangement between the city of Columbia and user agencies, which initially were fire and police departments. Ambulance services and others were added later.

By 2012, the city was absorbing the bulk of the operational costs and looked for ways to share the expenses. The county also began considering the possibility of taking over the service, and Atwill appointed the blue ribbon panel to explore that and other questions.

The panel’s recommendations in January 2013 included asking voters for a dedicated sales tax for 911 service and to build a new facility, replacing outdated equipment and creating an advisory board to oversee the new county department. Voters approved the three-eighths-cent sales tax three months later.

“This all seems like a long time ago,” Atwill said Friday.

In the meantime, the county took over operational control of the city-managed 911 center at 17 N. Seventh St. On Jan. 1, all 911 employees transitioned to county employment.

“Our goal is to move out of the city’s property as soon as possible,” Miller said. “But we want the project to be done right.”