After committing more than $30 million to the project last December, a ceremonial groundbreaking Monday morning marked the start of meaningful construction on Hennepin County's new dispatch facility and emergency communications center.
The building will be the most advanced of its kind in the upper Midwest, according to county officials, when it is completed sometime during the second half of 2014—with technological capabilities that will enable citizens anywhere in Hennepin County to text, e-mail and send video to emergency dispatchers in real time.
"This is an important day for Hennepin County, and I don't want to understate that at all," Sheriff Rich Stanek said. "The residents expect 911 to work every time without fail and without delay. Today we begin building this new facility to meet that tremendous responsibility. We're going to build a reliable 911 facility to maintain uninterrupted service in this county."
Hennepin County dispatches police and fire departments in 37 communities and handled more than 600,000 emergency calls last year—an average well over 1,600 each day—at its current headquarters in Golden Valley. Sheriff Stanek said that number is only expected to grow with population and over time.
Commissioner Jan Callison—who represents the Lake Minnetonka area—chairs Hennepin County's Budget and Capital Investment Committee, which played a key role in approving the emergency communications center's construction. She said current dispatch operations were being handled in a space that has been too small for many years and relocationg required partnerships with several Hennepin County communities and both internal and external departments.
Plymouth Mayor Kelli Slavik said home owners in a nearby residential neighborhood seem to be just fine with Hennepin County building a new 59,000-square foot facility on Shanendoah Drive, adding she has not received a single complaint. The new communications center will sit on the campus of Hennepin County's Adult Corrections Facility, which provides short-term incarceration for offenders.
"I had this whole speech ready for people about how the increased traffic will all be law enforcement and they will live in the safest neighborhood," Mayor Slavik said. "But I haven't received a single call. People have a good view of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. We're pleased the county chose Plymouth. We're proud to provide the tools first responders need to do their jobs safely."
Construction of the communications center will be guided by Stahl Construction, based in St. Louis Park. Monday's groundbreaking was picketed by members of the International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers Local 292. The union claims Stahl Construction has offered a contract for services to Vinco Electric, Inc., a company the union says has been found in violation of Minnesota’s prevailing wage laws and fails to pay area standard wages and benefits.
The handful of protestors were permitted to publicly voice their grievance and said they had not been bothered by any law enforcement member or guest at Monday's ceremony. Click here for a full synopsis of the union's position on the 911 center.
In addition, the facility will host part of the state’s emergency radio network system—known as ARMER.
Among its other features—there will be 21 consoles for 911 dispatch and a 9,500-square-foot garage where Sheriff’s Office technicians will install and maintain public safety communications equipment in the vehicles of first responders from throughout the county. The site will maximize the use of an existing communication tower on the site. The total projected budget is $33.7 million.