Wake County Republicans want a new Emergency Operations Center, but won’t partner with the City of Raleigh because its facility won’t be underground.
In a four-three vote split along party lines, Wake County Commissioners Monday decided against partnering with the city to build a new public safety facility that would, among other things, house the County’s Emergency Operations Center.
Raleigh’s Critical Public Safety Facility will be the new headquarters of the 911 call center, emergency operations center, data center and traffic operations center. The 97,000-square-foot building is planned for city property on Brentwood Road and North Raleigh Boulevard.
The city invited the county to also locate its emergency operations center within the new facility.
The county’s contribution to the $68.9 million center would have been $4 million, with annual operating expenses coming in at between $53,000 and $79,000.
“We need something bigger and better,” Commissioner Phil Matthews said of the County’s current center, which is located in the County Courthouse basement.
But Matthews said he isn’t comfortable with Raleigh’s facility situation above ground.
Commissioner Paul Coble has been an outspoken opponent of the facility’s above-ground design since earlier this year, often bringing up his experience visiting New York City’s Emergency Operations Center prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. That center was destroyed along with the World Trade Center.
“I’m saddened that the City of Raleigh has taken such a harsh position that they won’t reconsider,” Coble said.
“I can see both sides of this issue,” said Commissioner Tony Gurley.
Ultimately, Gurley said it is best for the county to have its center below ground.
Commissioners agreed that co-location is the best option during an emergency so that all agencies could work together seamlessly, but they disagreed about whether they should move forward with Raleigh or build their own center.
Constructing a separate building will cost the county between $9 million and $11 million, not including the cost of land.
About 8 percent of the total cost — or about $850,000 — is associated with putting part of the building underground.
“We’re willing to spend 10 million to put [the Convention Center] underground so that the skyline looks nice,” Gurley said. “But we’re debating whether to spend $850,000 to put an essential public safety entity building underground.”
Current Center Needs
The current center doesn’t meet FEMA or ADA regulations. There are no bathrooms, running water, or areas for food storage and preparation. The building lacks a place for staff to sleep in the case of a prolonged emergency. The center also doesn’t have an independent and secured water source or filtered air supply.
Josh Creighton, the County’s emergency management director, said that the center has about 1,300 square feet of usable space and seating for about 30 people. In an emergency, more than 60 seats will be needed.
Plans for a joint county-city center offered 15,000 square feet of usable space, with 6,500 of that assigned to the county.
“Even though the county performs superbly during events, the facility limits our effectiveness,” Creighton said.
Commissioner Caroline Sullivan stressed that the current Emergency Operations Center isn’t cutting it.
She said there are only two options: staying in the current location, or kicking in $4 million to partner with the City.
“There is no third option in our budget,” she said.
The county does not have any money budgeted for its own project.
“We don’t have the resources to build a facility of our own, and the City of Raleigh is willing to bring their money to the table,” said Commissioner Betty Lou Ward.
Coble said while the county only has two options now, “We can create other choices based on what we think is more important.”
County Manager David Cooke said staff can start looking at county-owned properties that could be used for a standalone center. The planning phase could start within the next three to six months.
City Moving Forward
Assistant City Manager Daniel Howe said in an email to the Record that the city plans on going forward with the project without the county’s involvement because cost was never a factor in the partnership.
“Cost was not a reason the city supported the co-location, because the county’s participation did not make the building less expensive to city taxpayers,” Howe wrote.
“What this action does do is place an additional burden on county taxpayers (of which Raleigh residents make up almost half) to fund a standalone, redundant County EOC at an additional cost of $5 million to $8 million above the $4 million it would have cost to join in Raleigh’s project,” he wrote.
Howe said the City will go forward with the design that doesn’t include the county’s portion and the building will be smaller.