A proposed $13.5 million Mesa Regional Dispatch Center could be constructed in partnership with another agency or reuse a previously constructed facility and does not need to be placed on land already owned by Mesa, city staff members were told last month by a council subcommittee.
The Public Safety Committee – made up of Vice Mayor Dennis Kavanugh and council members Alex Finter and Chris Glover – on Monday, March 2, met in part to hear a presentation on the project. They later agreed that a proposed site at 32nd and McDowell would not be suitable and asked for additional areas to be brought back to be considered.
Mr. Finter questioned what owners of $600,000 to $800,000 homes near the 32nd and McDowell site would say about having a 100- to 130-foot-tall tower planned at the regional dispatch center.
“So when they walk out of their back porch, they are going to be looking at a huge tower. The other part is – and this is what we require for our freeway monument signs – field of view. If you think about looking back at the west – and I did this – and you look where that tower might be, it’s going to put it right in the middle of everybody’s view of Red Mountain,” he said.
Dave Wilkins, project manager, on March 2 explained to the subcommittee the process where sites were considered and detailed the criteria from adequate parcel size to ease of access, land-use compatibility, utility and roadway infrastructure, according to an online video stream of the meeting at http://www.mesachannel11.com/vod.php?show=1259.
“In our existing facility, the space is limited and the city has grown and the needs have expanded and so it’s time – and the voters approved – doing this facility,” Mr. Wilkins said to the subcommittee. “One of the things that was identified is that we need a backup system for redundancy – meaning that if there’s a failure on one site then we would have a backup site that would be able to handle those calls.”
He said $16 million was approved by Mesa city voters in 2013 in a public safety bond election for a new dispatch and communications center.
But $2.5 million of it had been earmarked for backup radio network infrastructure, the subcommittee was told.
“Taking that off the top, it has impacted the project. There’s things that potentially won’t get built,” Mr. Finter said at the meeting.
A map in Mr. Wilkins’ presentation showed 10 city-owned sites and two non-city-owned sites were reviewed. Key site issues were communication conflicts, drainage issues, lack of telephone redundancy and conflicting land use or demolition issues, according to the presentation.
Only one did not have any key site issues – 3200 E. McDowell Road, on the northeast corner, which is a 13.5-acre vacant city-owned lot near the Val Vista Water Treatment Plant, according to a report provided to the committee.
“The benefit to this site is there is no acquisition cost with it, which really helps our budget; there’s also very limited demolition, which again helps our budget,” Mr. Wilkins said. “Because of how flat it is, it is like the designer’s dream site to go out and build something because it’s such an easy slate to do something on.”
Mr. Finter, Mr. Glover and Mr. Kavanaugh dismissed Mesa city staff members’ recommendation that the facility be placed at 3200 E. McDowell Road.
“When we first brought this up, I know a lot of attention was focused on the west side and we said we really want to be innovative,” Councilman Glover said. “Think of all of the other things we have done – Benedictine, the courthouse turning into Wilkes – just thinking outside of the box. And with this one, I kind of feel that it wasn’t; that you asked us for our input but really you just bring us one choice,” he said.
“In terms of doing major projects like this, what we encourage city staff to do is be innovative and to not just look at the easy answer, but look at the answer that gives the best rate of return to the city overall,” Mr. Kavanaugh said. “Which is why we have done projects such as Benedictine or the Wilkes building or again using adaptive reuse for facilities that can serve multiple functions and multiple purposes and that we haven’t been afraid of that,” he said.
“I’ve been looking for a site that provides a greater return to the community as a whole, to be in a location that long-term could really serve well as a regional communications center. I look at the bond money that we had as part of our financing package, but I never – at least in my own mind – thought that was the total cap because we have had the experience since 2008 of working with the federal government, with other entities, where we have received other monies to combine to make projects even better or bigger or have a multiplier effect,” Mr. Kavanaugh said.
“I’m disappointed. For that reason, I’m not ready to support any recommendation tonight,” he said.
Councilman Finter said he looked through old minutes of meetings on discussions about the regional dispatch center.
“The discussion was – and it is documented – we want you to think of the innovation of reuse, redevelopment, those kind of areas,” he said. “I feel like there has been some pressure because some of the money was taken off the budget for some of these other very vital things but then now we’re all in a … crunch because it isn’t 16 now, it is 13.”
A total of $51.7 million in public safety bonds were approved in a Nov. 5, 2013, special election. They were approved 26,236-20,341, according to http://www.mesaaz.gov/clerk/election_home.aspx.
According to http://mesaaz.gov/bond/2013BondInformation.pdf, the description for a new Fire and Medical Dispatch/Communications Center stated, in part, that the existing Fire and Medical dispatch center is with the Police Department dispatch center on East Sixth Place. Much of the key radio communication equipment for the city is also located within this facility. The current dispatch center has no redundancy, and space on the third floor (where the dispatch center is located) is at capacity. An additional communications center would be developed to create additional dispatch space for the Fire and Medical Department and back-up dispatch capability for the Police Department. This additional facility would add communications redundancy for the city in the event that the current facility or communications system were to experience a failure, according to the city of Mesa document.