BELLEFONTE - Add Centre to the list of counties that are moving their cramped, outdated emergency communications center elsewhere.
After Clinton County officials recently approved moving its communications center to the former Flemington Elementary School, the Centre County commissioners Tuesday gave their unanimous approval to start to the process of moving that center down one floor in the Willowbank Building.
Commissioners Michael Pipe and Chris Exarchos - Commissioner Steve Dershem was absent - approved a $132,480 contract with Schrader Group Architecture LLC to provide construction administrative services to move the communications center from the first floor to the entire ground floor of the Willowbank Building.
The move comes as the county is in the process of federally-mandated upgrades to its communications system to move from high-band to low-band frequencies.
"It became apparent we did not have the space to install all the equipment needed," said Emergency Communications Director Dan Tancibok of the roughly 7,000 square feet of space the center shares with the Emergency Operations Center and Emergency Management Agency.
The new space will provide about 9,000 square feet of space, County Administrator Tim Boyde said.
"We are literally maxed out," Tancibok said. "Space has been an issue for the last few years."
He noted the number of incidents has increased between 7 and 10 percent each year for the last several years, but there is no more room to house any more than six dispatchers at once. That level is maxed out, he said, with the Arts Fest in the summer and Penn State football games in the fall.
Larry Bickford of Mission Control Partners, which is the consultant hired for the 911 changes, noted Schrader has worked with about 15 to 20 county entities, and is the lead architect for the $40 million renovation at the building that houses the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
He anticipates the new center to be ready to occupy in March of 2013, after a slight overlap of services from the current and new center before the new center can take control.
"We believe there will be no or little interruption to the 911 system in Centre County," Tancibok said.
The new emergency radio communications should be in place in a little less than two years from now, Bickford said.
Exarchos said the county is still in negotiations with current supplier Motorola to supply the new equipment, but is asking that company to "come to the table with a price that's justifiable."
Preliminary figures showed the emergency communications upgrade would cost between $18 million and $27, though Exarchos said Tuesday that final number should be significantly less.
The new 911 center will take the place of the current Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities Department.
Exarchos said there may be a shuffling of the offices in the Willowbank Building at that time, while the MH/ID Department will move to a different location.
"We've looked at several possibilities. We're still in negotiations," he said. "We'd like to keep it all together. We're looking at between 10,000 and 12,000 square feet, and with 16 employees and their clients, parking will also be an issue. office space in that ballpark is not readily available."
Exarchos is hopeful the county can pick a location in the next few weeks.