Washington County breaks ground on new communications center for first responders

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) - Washington County officials took the first steps toward addressing equipment and facilities shortfalls for their emergency responders with a groundbreaking on Wednesday.

Currently, the new facility is nothing but a pile of dirt in between the Washington County Jail and Washington County Sheriff's Office. What will go between the two buildings represents the Washington County Emergency Operations Center and Washington County 911 Communications building.

It is an investment of nearly $11 million between communications upgrades and the building itself.

For years, first responders and county leaders have said they are in dire need of an upgrade to their radios and other communications tools. The new facility and funding will help address those needs.

On Tuesday, the Washington County Board of Supervisors signed off on the project's plans, estimated at $3.4 million for the building, and $7.5 million for communications upgrades; the planned upgrades include new radios for every vehicle, two new radio towers, and a ten-year plan for any necessary maintenance on the facility's new equipment.

While Wednesday served as the groundbreaking for the facility, for first responders, they believe this upgrade is not only much-needed, but money well spent.

"We have spots throughout the county that we know our portable radios on our belt are not going to function, or sometimes it's even difficult to get out from the mobile radios in our car," Washington County Sheriff Jared Schneider said. "To have this new facility, a new radio system and knowing that equipment's going to work for our people out there on the streets, it's a very important thing for us to get this done."

Leaders of the project said all of the key planning steps are done and now construction can begin. Once construction of the building is complete, they hope to get the new communications equipment installed quickly.

The goal is to have the facility up and operational by Summer 2020.