A groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday for the new combined 911 Dispatch Center. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Clark County breaks ground on ‘state-of-the-art’ dispatch center, restarts negotiations with city of Springfield

Construction on Clark County’s new roughly $5 million 9-1-1 dispatch center will likely be completed in November but whether or not it will serve all county residents remains a question.

The ground was broken on the new center Wednesday morning, however, construction began on the project earlier this year. The new center for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office will dispatch services for all Clark County township emergency management personnel excluding Mad River Twp., Green Twp. and for now — Springfield.

All software for the center will be in accordance with Ohio’s Next Generation 9-1-1 state requirements that call for dispatch services to be more advanced. This means the public will be able to send digital content to dispatchers like GPS locations, audio and video recording, pictures and text messages.

Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett said the center and its new equipment will help to cut anywhere from, “seconds to minutes,” off police, fire and EMS response times.

“We are going to have a state-of-the-art dispatch center,” Burchett said. “This is just going to be the greatest thing to ever happen to the county as far as the citizens of this community, for response times, for EMS, law enforcement, it will just be fantastic.”

The center is being built on Home Road in the former Clark County Department of Job and Family Services Children’s Home. The current 3,800-square-foot facility will be repurposed as an office and training facility while a 3,300-square-foot addition built on a facility designed by Springfield-based McCall Sharp Architecture will house the 9-1-1 dispatch operations.

READ PREVIOUS COVERAGE: $5 Clark County dispatch center will accept texts, cell videos

Renovation and construction on the 9-1-1 center is slated to be completed in early November, however, operations at the center will likely not begin until 2021 due to the length of time it will take to install the new equipment.

Planning for the center has been no easy feat, Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes, who spearheaded the project, said.

“This has been going on for a long time with a lot of different people involved,” Lohnes said. “This probably all started around 2012.”

Lohnes said he was in his second year as a county commissioner in 2012 when he became a member of the local emergency procedures council, where he learned the county had, “a terrible radio system and dispatching issues.”

“The issues with dispatching came about on the edges of the city limits. If you had a cell phone that determined which tower the signal bounced off and where the call went,” Lohnes said. “So it could get transferred to another dispatch center or to the (City of Springfield) or the county.”

Because of dispatching issues that can cause city 9-1-1 calls to be transferred to the county and vice versa, the city of Springfield and Clark County have discussed combined dispatch centers for years, with some talks dating back to the ’90s.

But in 2016, when the county again approached the city with more solid plans about combining dispatch centers talks broke down. So in 2017, the county decided to move forward with building the dispatch center on their own.

Talks between the county and city picked up again — but broke down again in November of 2019 because the county’s offer to combine would have dropped some city dispatcher’s pay, among other things, Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck told the Springfield News-Sun at the time.

READ PREVIOUS COVERAGE: City of Springfield will not be part of the new dispatch center

However, talks about combining have once again begun and have progressed.

Commissioners with the city of Springfield conducted the first reading of a memorandum of understanding last week that will allow the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to start contract negotiations.

“This (memorandum of understanding) will allow for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to enter into contract negotiations with their dispatchers,” Heck said during the commission meeting. “We have laid out in the memorandum of understanding things that we need to have met specifically in those contract negotiations as it relates to our employees and their fair treatment in being brought over to a combined center that would be operated by the sheriff’s office.”

Heck said the agreement would be the first in a three-step process that also includes the contract negotiation phase and then working to develop a contract between the city and county for dispatching and communication services.

Under the memorandum of understanding, the sheriff’s office would have to enter into contract negotiations no later than Sept. 1.

In the meantime, the dispatch center is being built large enough to hold enough dispatchers to accommodate the city, county and all townships should an agreement be reached, Lohnes said.

“Things are still progressing and they look very positive,” Lohnes said. “Things are looking very good for a complete county-wide system and we are very excited about that.”

Lohnes said he is also confident Mad River Twp. and Green Twp. will also come to an agreement with the county “soon.”

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