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911 call center likely to stay in same building

Although several new site proposals for relocating the combined city and county 911 call center are in the works, board members decided Tuesday the most logical thing to do was to stay in the same county-owned building.

Amy Biggs, Fort Wayne fire chief and president of the Consolidated Communications Partnership, which oversees the call center, initiated the discussion of moving the call center from the basement to the sixth floor of the Rousseau Centre, formerly the City-County Building.

Staying in the same building makes the most sense, she said.

"Logistics and fiscal and operational responsibility – these are the components we need to consider when we look at the function of 911," Biggs said.

City and county police and fire services are all located in the building and the 911 call center is an integral part of the public safety network and should be housed under the same roof, Biggs said.

Rusty York, Fort Wayne police chief and a member of the board, said staying at the Rousseau building, but moving from the cramped basement where the center is now located to the sixth floor, would save a "substantial amount of money."

The floor now houses Victim Assistance and an office for Tony Burrus, director of the Allen County Solid Waste District, but both offices could easily be moved to another floor, York said.

The rooms on the sixth floor are tall enough that construction crews will not have to get into the ceilings, so the expensive and problematic asbestos removal that county officials have run into while remodeling the building will not be an issue, York said.

In 2011, the county considered using the eighth floor for the call center, but decided it would be too costly to renovate.

The renovation of the building was completed earlier this year at a cost of $4.8million, slightly more than the estimated $4.5 million county officials were expecting.

The call center is currently undergoing a $7.06 million upgrade to the county's emergency 911 system, which includes new radios and equipment, and the much-needed expansion cannot take place in the current space, which is only 5,700 square feet. The sixth floor would offer more than 12,000 square feet, Biggs said.

Biggs said that during a the severe storm on June 29, it was so convenient to simply walk down the hallway of the Rousseau building to the 911 call center and offer assistance.

Biggs knew the board was in the process of looking at new sites for the center, but wondered whether if options had been thoroughly explored in the existing building.

An exploratory team was quickly organized to revisit the issue.

Although officials do not know exactly how much money would be saved by moving upstairs instead of to another site in Allen County, there would be no need for amplifiers, back-up generators and other equipment, which could potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Mike Reichard, supervisor of the partnership's radio shop.

The new 911 call system is expected to be activated in September 2013 and is on schedule, Reichard said.

But for the project to stay on schedule, Reichard said, the county commissioners must approve moving the center to the sixth floor within the next two weeks.

Reichard liked the idea of moving the center upstairs.

"As far as being in a disaster preparedness state, this building is in good shape," he said.