911 center: Back to the drawing board

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County commissioners are hoping the third time’s a charm as they once again solicit bids for the construction of a new 911 Dispatch Center/Office of Emergency Management building.

Both agencies, which currently occupy quarters in the first floor of the Hancock County Courthouse, have been under review for a new headquarters for more than two years.

The last two times the project was bid out, commissioners rejected the bid packages – once in June 2013, when the bids came in too high, and once in December, when commissioners said they needed more time.

A year ago, commissioners received six bids that exceeded their estimates for cost of the project, which at that time envisioned a two-building complex for the OEM/911 Center and the Hancock County Health Department.

With the health department component removed, commissioners rebid the project, only to shelve the nine bids received because of an impending deadline and questions about the best building site.

Commissioners initially wanted to build on county-owned land next to Crestview Park on state Route 2, but then reportedly began to look at the Newell Memorial Field property as a potential site.

On Thursday, commissioners went back to the drawing board, settling on the Crestview Park site and authorizing Robert Vidas, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications, to solicit a new round of construction bids.

Because the project exceeds $250,000, it will actually be bid twice, Vidas said. Commissioners are hoping for a bid opening sometime in mid- to late June.

The original architect, L.R. Kimball, of Ebensburg, Pa., will manage the rebid process.

Part of the reason commissioners settled on the Route 2 site was their decision to install a microwave antenna at the W.H. Sammis Plant, which sits across the Ohio River from Crestview Park. Vidas said the park’s close proximity to the power plant’s communication tower was a “major factor” in the decision to build on Route 2.

The microwave antenna is being installed to improve communications between the 911 Center and Hancock County fire departments and police departments, especially those in the northern part of the county, Vidas said.

The 911 Center currently uses a T-1 communication line that has become increasingly unreliable with age. During the week of April 20, the trunk line went out of service 11 times, Vidas told commissioners on Thursday.

“It puts communications (between 911 and emergency responders) in jeopardy,” he said. “It was causing us some concerns.”

The new antenna should result in faster, seamless 911 communications, Vidas said.

“It is highly important that we move forward with this project,” 911 Center Director Tracy Lemley said.

The county already has received approval from FirstEnergy, operator of the Stratton, Ohio, plant, and now must negotiate a timetable with a private contractor that operates the communication tower, Vidas said.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)