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CenCom seeking $10.5 million facility

With this year’s Nov. 6 general election just weeks away, the elections division of the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office mailed on Thursday at least 84,000 absentee ballots to Kitsap voters.

Included in the ballot is a $10.5 million, countywide request for a new Central Communications (CenCom) — 911 center — and emergency management facility to be located at the Kitsap County Emergency Readiness Center in west Bremerton.

“We’ve needed a new building for a long time,” said CenCom Director Ron McAffee. “While calls for service have increased dramatically and the county’s population has increased over the last 25 years, the facility is still the same size and it’s overcrowded.”

If a simple majority of voters approve the measure, Kitsap property owners would pay an additional 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for the next five years.

In exchange, the five-year property tax lid lift would provide for a seismically stable, 18,800-square-foot CenCom building.

Since 1977, the county’s emergency dispatch and response facilities have operated from a remodeled toll booth for the old Warren Avenue Bridge. The building was designed to accommodate staff for 10 years.

McAffee and other officials on the CenCom policy board say a new CenCom building is necessary to accommodate the growing demands for service within the community and to ensure some seismic integrity.

The Feb. 28 earthquake that hit Nisqually and rocked the Puget Sound region left several unnerving cracks at the existing CenCom facility, and steel doors, placed in concrete block casings, won’t close anymore.

“It could have been a different story if the earthquake’s epicenter had been 15 miles underground rather than 30 miles,” said McAffee.

Original estimates indicated the project cost would hover around $8 million, but increased because the building would be designed to meet stringent earthquake standards. The CenCom facility would also be located on a solid surface with no known earthquake faults below it.

The $10.5 million project, which could be completed by early 2004, includes a $300,000 radio tower and 16 dispatch consoles, with each costing about $70,000. The building itself is expected to cost about $4.1 million, with equipment hovering around the $2.9 million mark. The remaining $1 million would cover design, engineering, construction management and permitting.

On the flip side, CenCom won’t have to pay, in the traditional sense, for the use of the property at the readiness center. The site is owned by the U.S. National Guard Armory.

The idea is for CenCom to join the Joint Management Group, which consists of local fire service agencies, the U.S. Navy and Olympic College. A one-time membership fee to the group covers the use of the site, along with the group’s $1 a year lease to the National Guard. The lease is so low since all services and agencies at the campus would mutually benefit from the relationship.

CenCom’s membership fee would most likely involve site preparation costs, which the facility would have to pay for anyway to construct the new building.

“In that sense, it’s a win-win situation for us,” said McAffee.

A special eye has been trained on CenCom since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent fears of an anthrax attack. In fact, the current CenCom facility and its dispatchers have been dealing with higher volumes of phone calls in the last few weeks because citizens are concerned about suspicious packages or mysterious envelopes.

“We needed a new building long before the Sept. 11 attacks,” said McAffee. “Although the new facility would be equipped to deal with this kind of thing.”

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