County’s new 9-1-1 service center to be housed in former Clarksville school

Enterprise file photo

First opened in 1948, Clarksville Elementary was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. The former school changed hands in 2018, after Albany County paid the Bethlehem Central School District $325,000 for the building. 

NEW SCOTLAND — Citing pandemic concerns and major savings to taxpayers, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple requested and received permission to relocate the county’s Emergency 9-1-1 Communications Center from its planned place at the Shaker Place Nursing Home in Colonie to the county’s public-safety building in Clarksville. 

The Albany County Legislature approved Apple’s request in August.

The sheriff told audit and finance committee members last month that his office had been working on the 9-1-1 project since about 2016. “And then, of late, primarily due to COVID, we have moved this location to the Clarksville station, where our public-safety station is currently [located],” he said.

In July, Apple told the same committee that moving to Clarksville from the county nursing home in Colonie, which is currently receiving its own $84 million upgrade, could save significant funds because there wouldn’t be a need for costly extras like those related to the nursing home’s brick facade, or expenses associated with increased security, as well as other costs connected to the facility’s parking area. 

“We’re saving about $3 [million] to $4 million on the low-end by moving to Clarksville,” Apple said, with an upward estimated savings of between $5 million and $6 million.

A call to the sheriff’s office was not returned before press time. 

The Colonie version of the 9-1-1 project, which had not yet been built, came with a $10 million price tag, with Albany County on the hook for 90 percent of the cost and the state chipping in the other $1 million. The sheriff’s facility in New Scotland was already slated for millions of dollars in upgrades. 

 

Evolving use

When the county bought the former elementary school in November 2018 for $325,000 — $198,000 in cash and $127,000 worth of in-kind patrol services for five years — 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

The sheriff originally moved into the building in 2012, after its owner, the Bethlehem Central School District, closed the former elementary school the year prior, citing a budget gap and declining enrollment. Registration had actually been increasing in the area served by Clarksville Elementary but declining elsewhere in the district. The school had served the rural hamlet since 1948, having been the only Bethlehem district school in the town of New Scotland. 

The building now serves as home base to as many as 60 deputies, investigators, superior officers, and employees of the county’s emergency management center, which is also housed in the building and is also due for upgrades. The cafetorium additionally doubles as New Scotland’s town court.

Undersheriff William Rice told The Enterprise at the time of the school’s sale to the county, in November 2018, “The biggest thing is, we’re going to go in and renovate the space because it’s set up for a school and we want to convert it to be useful for law enforcement and public safety.” 

Rice said that large classrooms would be converted into smaller offices, and that issues with the air-conditioning and electrical systems would be addressed.

There was also a structural problem in the gym that needed attention, he said, and leaks in the roof would also need to be addressed.

The new 80-by-130-foot garage, Rice said in November 2018, would be used to store, among other things, the department’s mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, an armored truck; hazmat trailers and trucks; a mobile command post; all-terrain vehicles; snowmobiles; and boats. The equipment is currently stored in a hangar at Albany International Airport.

In November 2019, the county authorized another $1.5 million bond for the project at Apple’s request. And then last month, the legislature voted to reallocate $2.2 million from the Shaker Place 9-1-1 facility budget to Clarksville — making it a $5.9 million project. 

The legislature’s public safety committee at its August meeting approved $3.2 million in renovation contracts for the facility. The full legislature still has to sign off on the deals; it doesn’t meet again until Sept. 14.

 

Consolidation ahead?

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

“At that point, we answered for one law-enforcement agency, five EMS agencies, and six fire departments,” he said, 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, 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; the center now dispatches for six law-enforcement agencies, six emergency-medical-services agencies, and 15 fire departments.

Apple said that his office had initially looked at using Clarksville for the county’s 9-1-1 center, but the major impediment at the time was 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 is no longer issue, the sheriff said, 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 said during the July audit-and-finance meeting that the Clarksville facility is “still going to be built with the theory that, if we build it, they will come,” the idea being that other municipalities may 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.

More New Scotland News

  • Voorheesville Trustee Richard Straut said that he and Superintendent of Public Works Brett Hotaling had been talking in recent weeks about the impact of inflow and infiltration on the sewer system in the Salem Hills neighborhood, “about some of the troubles we’ve been having,” in particular during heavy rains and when snow melts. 

  • The owner of Stonewell Plaza has acquired an attorney who in turn has reached out to New Scotland planning and zoning board attorney Crystal Peck and is now trying to come up with a compromise that might work instead of paying for a parking analysis that is only going to show what is already known by nearly everyone involved: The site has too few spots to accommodate plaza businesses or to meet what is called for in the code.

  • Robert Baron filed his lawsuit in March 2018, alleging the Voorheesville Central School District fraudulently induced him to resign as the longtime head coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team.

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