The building St. Charles County’s new multimillion-dollar emergency communications and operations center in O’Fallon reflects the county planning ahead to help its first responders react to emergencies even on the scale of the recent hurricane-related disasters in Texas or Florida.
That’s what county officials are saying with the approval of an amendment to the county budget that adds $16.1 million to pay for the new center.
The so-called “tornado-resistant” center features a 30,000-square-foot building that will serve as a centralized facility for the county’s emergency management and communications as well as other functions. The council voted 6-0 at its Sept. 11 meeting to approve the bill amending this years’ budget. County Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] was absent.
The center also is funded with revenue from a ¼-cent sales tax for capital improvements designated as a “capital fund” in the county budget. County voters renewed the capital fund sales tax in 2009, increasing it from 1/5-cent. The county had set aside sales tax revenue in the county budget to fund the center.
The $16.1 million comes from the sale of special obligation bonds approved by the council in July. The bill amends the county’s 2017 capital fund budget that was adopted in December and already has an $8.225 million line item for the emergency operations center.
“The appropriation would be for the purpose of funding the remainder of construction cost of the new Emergency Operations Center over the $8.225 million presently budgeted from county resources,” County Executive Steve Ehlmann stated in a memorandum to the council.
On Jan. 30, the council voted to award the project to Brinkmann Constructors of St. Louis for $19.59 million, the lowest bid received. The cost is now targeted at $24.3 million to cover the cost of technology, furniture, equipment and bond issuance costs.
The center will be built on 10 acres of land behind the county police department’s headquarters off T.R. Hughes Drive in O’Fallon. County officials anticipate the facility will be operational in late 2018.
The new facility will house the day-to-day operations of the police department, the division of emergency management, and a data center for county information technology operations and the countywide emergency radio communications system. The facility also is to be designed to resist weather and other conditions.
Ehlmann and council members said the county is moving in the right direction in building the center.
“It is a wonderful facility,” said Councilmember Joe Cronin [District 1]. “It’s going to help our first responders to respond if we have an event [like those that], unfortunately, hit Texas or hit Florida or even hit our own state in Joplin a few years ago. I’m glad were getting it done.”
Councilmember Mike Elam [District 3] said an official interviewed in Florida said if they hadn’t completed a similar new center south of Tampa “there is no way they could have responded the way they did.”
Elam added, “So it really shows why a building like this is so important when you have something like this happen.”
Ehlmann noted that Texas officials may not have spent money on upgrading their emergency radio coverage to include new towers and equipment and new dispatching agreements as the county has in recent years. “They actually had problems down there with first responders from different jurisdictions not being able to communicate with each other,” Ehlmann said.
“It’s another example of us planning ahead. God forbid that we have something of that level, but if we do at least our first responder can communicate with each other,” he added.
County officials said the center is needed for many reasons, including that the county is running out of room for data and record storage, training and meeting space as the county continues to grow.
Currently, the county’s data center and some of its emergency communications offices are located in St. Charles. The emergency communications department also operates dispatching services and 911 operations from an office building in Wentzville. The county’s division of emergency management is located in the basement of the county’s justice center in St. Charles.