Merced County Supervisors OK move of Sheriff's Department dispatch center to Castle Airport

12/17/2013 9:39 PM

12/17/2013 9:41 PM

The 911 dispatch center at the Sheriff’s Department will be moved to a multiuse facility at Castle Airport, county supervisors unanimously decided during a board meeting Tuesday.

The move is scheduled to occur by August, according to county officials. Work on remodeling the building for the dispatch center was completed last December. It includes space for the county’s emergency operations center and fire headquarters.

The project is divided into three phases, and the Board of Supervisors approved the first phase on Tuesday. The first phase includes moving the dispatch operation and outfitting the new complex with computers, wiring and radios.

In the second phase, the old dispatch center is to be turned into a backup in case of emergencies. That work is scheduled for completion by Jan 1, 2015. The third phase involves installing a tower and moving the transmitters.

Funding has been identified for the first phase, but not the second or third, according to Mark Cowart, Merced County director of administrative services. Cowart said funding for the second phase will be requested in the county’s 2014 budget.

The existing Sheriff’s dispatch center is at the department’s headquarters on West 22nd Street in Merced. The 40-year-old space, which was once used as an office, isn’t equipped to support new phone and wiring technology, according to officials.

“Dispatch was always tucked in where it fit, and now we have a facility built just for communication people,” said Undersheriff Tom Cavallero, who was appointed Tuesday to take over as sheriff. He will complete departing Sheriff Mark Pazin’s final year in office.

“It was never built to be dispatch center,” Cavallero said, referring to the current site. “This is the first time we have a safe, comfortable, state-of-the-art dispatch center.”

District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, chairwoman of the board, said she’s pleased with the decision to move the dispatch operations. The current site, she said, has been flooded by rain at least twice.

Moving the operation benefits Castle because it marks another use of the former Air Force base, Kelsey said.

“The area has the ability to expand if we ever need to expand, and the parking is phenomenal,” Kelsey added. “It’s a very well-thought out placement for the dispatch center. It’s centrally located at Castle and close to the airport and fire station.”

Molly Behn has been a supervising dispatcher for the Sheriff’s Department since 2005. She said Tuesday she’s excited about the move, calling the new facility “absolutely gorgeous.”

“It’s nice that the new building is wired for our technological needs,” Behn said. “It also has more space and a big window that lets in natural light. It will be a nice space to occupy.”

Officials said about 12 people work in the Sheriff Department’s 911 dispatch facility, usually three or four operators at a time.

The total cost of the three-phase project was $983,750, county documents show. The first phase approved on Tuesday was about $497,740, according to documents.

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