Crammed for space

Catawba County’s 9-1-1 communicators are in need of more space, but a planned expansion project to the existing Justice Center should help meet their needs, officials say. 
The county is in the design process of building a new 9-1-1 communication facility as part of an overall expansion project to the county’s Justice Center in Newton.

The new facility will be two to three times larger than the existing communications area – which seats six communicators currently. 
The larger facility is something communications center shift supervisor Brian Drum said will be helpful immediately. 
“An increase in the new technology we use has really taken up space,” Drum said, adding that the equipment communicators use has become more sophisticated – and physically larger – over the years. 

Drum said the new facility will give each communicator more space to work and will be more accommodating for the employee. Phone lines and wiring that currently sit out in the open, for instance, will be hidden from the communicator at the new facility.
 “We have maintenance workers coming in and out of here all the time working on that,” Drum said.

“That will all be hidden in the new facility, so if someone is hammering or drilling on something, it won’t affect (the communicators).

A bigger facility will also allow more personal space and break areas for the communicators – can sometimes work around the clock. 
The new facility will be able to house up to about 16 or 18 communicators to allow for better coverage, said Communications Center Director Jerry Boggs. 
“The services are not cut at all, but if we had a bigger center we would have a little bit more people to accommodate big time coverage,” Boggs previously told The O-N-E.

“This is a 30-year-old building. The time has come to move forward and get bigger.”

Just one part

 The 9-1-1 facility is just one part of the overall Justice Center expansion project. 
The expansion will also add courtrooms, a clerk of courts area, an emergency operations area and administrative offices for emergency personnel. 
The project is primarily funded by proceeds from a quarter-cent sales tax increase that was passed in Catawba County in 2007. 
However, recent legislation passed in the N.C. General Assembly also allows the county to use 50 percent of collected 9-1-1 funds for one-time projects related to public safety.

The justice center expansion project qualifies under that definition.

The county collects 9-1-1 funds over time. Citizens who have any type of phone pay 60 cents a month in 9-1-1 fees that are used to help offset the cost of running a 9-1-1 communications center.

Over time, the county has built a $3 million fund balance, so they are able to use half of that money – about $1.55 million – for the expansion project as well.

Catawba County Finance Director Rodney Miller said the project is in its design phase, and said the county has hired an architect to plan out specifics of the expansion. 
Once design begins and planners figure out what they want the expansion to look like, it will be about one year until the county seeks bids from construction companies, Miller said. 
“We just need to give the architect a green light,” Miller said.