County considers courthouse for tower

Urbana board rejected Champaign County’s earlier plan.

A backup 911 tower may be placed on the county courthouse after a previous plan to install the tower on Urbana’s municipal building failed earlier this summer.

County and city officials had initially proposed to place a 70-foot tall wireless telecommunications tower on the city’s municipal building in downtown Urbana. But members of the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted against the plan, arguing among other issues that it would require waiving several variances, including the proximity of the tower to residences and roads, and the height of the tower above the roof.

Instead, a new plan could mean the antennae for the backup tower would be placed on the Champaign County Courthouse, said Craig Evans, director of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency. If it moves forward, the tower would provide a backup 911 center in case of an emergency such as a fire or tornado at the current joint 911 center at the county office complex on U.S. 68.

The courthouse would be a suitable location, but is not ideal compared to the municipal building, Evans said.

One of the benefits of the initial plan is that there is space available at the municipal building for a 911 center where dispatchers could answer emergency calls, as well as additional space for an emergency operations center where local officials could review disaster plans and manage the emergency.

“We would have that at the city building,” Evans said. “I’m not sure we’ll have that at the courthouse.”

Mark Keller, chief of the Urbana Fire Division, said local officials had considered going back to the BZA with an updated proposal but ultimately decided it was unlikely to be approved. Instead, they’re hoping to have the backup system running at the courthouse by October or early November.

The project would be paid for with an $18,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, so Evans said the county also has to keep cost in mind for a potential location.

“The main factor is we have to have another place to go,” Keller said.

Earlier this month, there was a fire alarm at the current 911 center, but it was not evacuated. There have also been other incidents in recent months, including a bomb threat at the site.

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