Walla Walla County 911 services may get new home in College Place

The county's Emergency Management Department may relocate to to the College Place Fire Department.


WALLA WALLA -- If all goes well, College Place will soon be the new home for 911 services in Walla Walla County.

County commissioners today gave the go-ahead to seek proposals to move the center to the College Place Fire Department. The county's Emergency Management Department, which is also housed in the 911 center, would be moved there as well.

The action by Commissioners Gregg Loney, Greg Tompkins and Perry Dozier followed a presentation by Gay Ernst, county emergency management director, who was one of a committee that has been studying relocation of the 911 center since June. Also on the committee were Loney, 911 Dispatch Director Steve Ruley, College Place Fire Chief David Winter and Sheriff Mike Humphreys.

The dispatch center is now in a county-owned building at Rose Street and Second Avenue. Constructed in the 1970s, the building housed Pacific Power and Light offices until 1996. The dispatch center moved in the next year, Ernst said.

But the current building has two major problems, Ernst said. It doesn't meet current seismic or high wind standards. It is also at risk for flooding from Mill Creek, which runs through a channel beside the structure.

Additional concerns are security problems due to its location on a busy street corner and inadequate parking for emergency responders and employees.

The committee narrowed possibilities to the former AmericanWest bank building on Walla Walla Avenue and the College Place Fire Department. The bank building was ruled out as too expensive to buy while the College Place facility, which was completed in 2001, has room to accommodate the dispatch center and emergency management with a few modifications.

"We put a lot of time into this," Humphreys told commissioners. "Where emergency dispatch is located is an important issue and looking at what's out there, this is the most cost-effective way to do this."

Ernst said the successful bidder on the project will have to provide a "seamless transition" of 911 services from the present location to College Place. If fiber optic lines are installed by April or May, the move could be completed as early as June.

Commissioners discussed the estimated cost in executive session because the discussion might influence bidding. Ernst did say in open session that the cost should be under the valuation of the building now housing the 911 center. The county currently lists the property's valuation at $289,400.

In the interim, commissioners asked College Place City Administrator Pat Reay to have the city work on a lease agreement and asked Humphreys to have his office work on what to do if the county realizes any excess money from the sale of the building after the move is completed.

At the meeting's end, Reay thanked the committee for its work and said the project would be a benefit to everyone.

"I think this is a good opportunity to coordinate as agencies and we're excited about this opportunity," he said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.


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