Archive for Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sheriff’s communication upgrade on horizon

July 18, 2007

The Leavenworth Board of County Commissioners took the next step Monday in upgrading a communications system for local emergency service providers that undersheriff Ron Cranor said is "on the verge of extinction."

Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to draft and execute a letter of intent to negotiate with Motorola to replace at least one communications tower and possibly overhaul the entire system from analog to digital equipment.

"Everyday is critical to us," Sheriff David Zoellner said, adding that the top priority is to replace the Boling Grange tower at Tonganoxie Road and 171st Street, which was destroyed when it was struck by a vehicle in October 2006.

A temporary tower has been constructed, but a more permanent solution is badly needed, Zoellner said.

The sheriff explained that currently there are holes in the system in some areas of the county where his department's radios can't communicate with dispatchers or other officers.

Motorola representatives submitted a stand-alone plan to construct a 450-foot tower, which would be the central backbone of any future communications system, near the current Boling Grange site at a cost of $730,000.

County Counselor David Van Parys recommended proceeding with the construction of that tower while Motorola representatives work to come up with a firm project proposal for the entire system.

Van Parys said there are three other towers that need work to be fully included in the county's eight tower system: the Leavenworth dispatch tower at the county Justice Center, the Kickapoo tower near Pleasant Ridge High School and a new Tonganoxie tower to be built on site at the county rock quarry.

Construction of the Tonganoxie tower will be paid for by the Mid-America Regional Council as part of their RAMBIS project, an undertaking that eventually will allow interoperability between all emergency service providers, Zoellner said.

Leavenworth County would then be responsible for maintaining the equipment installed there. Zoellner said work on that tower should begin in 30 days.

Once the towers are in place, they will give signal coverage to 100 percent of the county 95 percent of the time, Motorola representatives said.

Van Parys said he foresees all four towers being completed by the first quarter of 2008.

An additional aspect of updating the entire communications system is to change the county's 30-year-old analog equipment to a digital format.

By federal mandate, all emergency service providers must migrate to digital 12.5-kilohertz technology by 2013.

For Leavenworth, that would mean replacing all of the transmitters and receivers on the communications towers and purchasing completely new radios.

Van Parys said that one advantage that agencies in the county have is being able to hook into the state system, which also is being contracted by Motorola. The county is able to utilize a Kansas Department of Transportation facility, one of eight towers the county uses, at Interstate 70 and Kansas Highway 7.

According to Zoellner, costs for the entire project are estimated at between $14 million and $18 million. Those figures are down from the $23 million price tag that was projected in April.

Jim Chambers, an engineer with Motorola, said that amount would include all towers, mobile and portable radios, equipment sheds at the base of the towers and digital antennas.

"Basically, everything you'd need to bring this system online and meet everyone's needs," he said.

Zoellner said that, although the county is responsible for Emergency Medical Services, the Sheriff's Department, the Emergency Management Department and the rural fire departments, it is yet to be determined what the different city's responsibilities would be.

Commissioner Clyde Graeber also asked how the county would pay for such a large-scale project.

"There are constraints on the level of funding available," he said, pointing out that if funds were drawn from the $26 million in voter-approved 1-cent sales tax that runs through 2016, there would not be much money left there for future projects.

Motorola representative Bob O'Halloran raised the option of a 10- to 12-year lease that he said could make the associated costs "more palatable."

Commission Chairman J.C. Tellefson also noted that there would be plenty of space on the towers to sell real estate to interested parties or municipalities as a way to generate revenue.

Chambers said he could have a hard-and-firm proposal for a complete overhaul ready for board approval in 60 to 90 days.

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