Sheriff plans new 9-1-1 center for $9.2M at Clarksville station

— Enterprise file photo

First opened in 1948, Clarksville Elementary School was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

NEW SCOTLAND — A year ago, citing coronavirus concerns and major savings to taxpayers, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple requested and received permission to move the county’s Emergency 9-1-1 Communications Center from its planned location at the Shaker Place Nursing Home in Colonie to the sheriff’s public-safety building in Clarksville. 

Barring the county legislature voting down the project, “we anticipate putting a shovel in the ground in about 25 [to] 30 days,” Apple said on Aug. 24.

Apple was speaking to members of the county legislature’s public works committee, who then voted to OK the construction costs for the facility. The project still has to be signed off on by the entire county legislature, which next meets on Sept. 13.

The project came in $800,000 above “where we thought but we’re still under” the original allotment, the sheriff said, attributing the overages to the high cost of materials throughout the pandemic.

Apple said that another unplanned cost was $200,000 to upgrade the former school’s septic system — the initial plans called for a tie-in to the existing and antiquated system, which proved unfeasible due to the eventual increase in staff that would be using the system.

Apple reiterated that his office remains under its original allotted amount for the project, adding there’s a 7-percent contingency built into the budget.  “I have no anticipation whatsoever of coming back here and begging for more money,” Apple told the committee. “I think we can still do this efficiently and under budget.”

Apple said the project would use three streams of funding:

— A $9.2-million bond;

— Grant funding, $500,000 of which has been used so far to cover construction soft costs — which can include things like architectural, engineering, and legal fees, as well as permits, taxes, and insurance — and future furniture costs like 9-1-1 consoles; and

— Budgeted funds. 

The sheriff moved into the Clarksville building in 2012.

The county bought the former elementary school from the Bethlehem district in November 2018 for $325,000 — $198,000 in cash and $127,000 worth of in-kind patrol services for Bethlehem schools for five years. At that time, the sheriff’s office had a $2.2 million bond set aside for renovations and a new garage to be built on the 12.2-acre property at 58 Verda Ave.

In September 2020, prior to the 9-1-1 center relocation from Colonie, the county legislature approved $3.2 million worth of renovations to the Clarksville station.

Albany County’s current 3,000-square-foot 9-1-1 center at 449 New Salem Road is in a complex used by the county’s department of public works just down the road from the Voorheesville middle and high school campus. The 9-1-1 center was built in 1994, said Apple during an August 2020 meeting of the county legislature’s audit-and-finance committee.  

“At that point, we answered for one law-enforcement agency, five EMS agencies, and six fire departments,” he told committee members last year, and the facility was supposed to accommodate just three dispatchers, two clerks, and a station commander.

The building had received “no renovations whatsoever” in the quarter-century since, Apple said at the time, but now it houses 30 dispatchers, three information-technology staffers, two clerks, one sheriff’s deputy, and a station commander.

The county’s current 9-1-1 service center “was built to handle 10,000 calls a year — we now handle 12,000 calls per month,” Apple said in August of last year; the center now dispatches for six law-enforcement agencies, six emergency medical service agencies, and 15 fire departments.

“It accounts for everything,” Apple told the county legislature’s public works committee on Aug. 24 of the Clarksville upgrade. His office’s Emergency Management Office, which is run out of the former elementary school, and the new 9-1-1 call center, Apple said, will be “a state-of-the-art facility.”

“Just basically, it’s a big box,” Apple said of the former elementary school, “with all the technology that we need to have probably the most efficient and technologically advanced 9-1-1 in the state upon its completion.”

Apple said he was “very comfortable with that statement.”

The upgraded facility will house 17 dispatchers at any given time and 40 call-takers, Apple told the legislators.

The 9-1-1 facility was originally slated to be built inside Albany County’s recently-rehabilitated nursing home in Colonie, but Apple told the committee that the decision to move to Clarksville was a cost-saving measure.

Apple said that building the 9-1-1 center at the nursing home would have cost$13.5 million to $15 or $16 million. He attributed the cost difference to having to install specialty materials to match the new nursing home. 

Apple told the committee that he originally thought the move to Clarksville would be too expensive because of the technology costs, which have since come down. 

The sheriff said in 2020 that a tower would have had to have been put up — a move that could have drawn lawsuits from the residents of the nearby neighborhood. But the need for a tower was no longer an issue, the sheriff said last year, because, as part of a multi-million dollar communications systems upgrade, “we put a synchronous ring — a fiber ring which we call a SONET [synchronous optical networking] ring — throughout the county.”

Apple noted that, eventually, most municipalities in Albany County will no longer be able to afford the cost of operating their own 9-1-1 dispatching services.

“And I firmly believe that — and I don’t want to consolidate, take that word right out of the vocabulary — I want to share our building,” Apple said. “I want other towns to come over and use our building.”

Apple had said during the July 2020 audit-and-finance committee meeting that the Clarksville facility was “still going to be built with the theory that, if we build it, they will come,” the idea being that other municipalities will want to consolidate their 9-1-1 operations with the county down the road, and “save all the taxpayers in the county millions of dollars.”

A month later, responding to a question about the likelihood of any of local cities or towns deciding to give up on running their own 9-1-1 centers and throwing in with the county, Apple said, “Every municipality is struggling,” adding he thought there could be a time in the not-too-distant future when a municipality could “knock on the county’s door and simply say, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’ And technically, the county is on the hook for this when those municipalities do that.”

Consolidation of 9-1-1 services under the sheriff has been underway for some time already. In 2011, there were 11 separate public-safety answering points, or PSAPs, in Albany County that handled 9-1-1 calls. In the ensuing almost-decade, four municipalities consolidated their 9-1-1 services with the county.

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