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$65 million 911 center to open in 2020, 9 years after Pierce County voters OK’d it

This sketch depicts the most recent plans for Pierce County’s new 911 center, which is scheduled to open in 2020. The design has not been finalized.
This sketch depicts the most recent plans for Pierce County’s new 911 center, which is scheduled to open in 2020. The design has not been finalized. South Sound 911

The latest time line has Pierce County’s new 911 center opening in 2020, nine years after voters approved it.

South Sound 911, the regional dispatch agency, plans to finish the design this year, choose a construction firm and start building next year. It expects to move into the building in the third quarter of 2020, the agency said in a community presentation Aug. 22.

“I’m pleased that we are where we are in terms of schedule and budget,” South Sound 911 executive director Andrew Neiditz told The News Tribune last week.

Voters created South Sound 911 in 2011, by approving raising the sales tax by a penny on every $10 purchase. A large part of those funds were meant to pay for the new 76,594-square-foot facility, which will dispatch for Pierce County’s 41 police and fire agencies.

Neiditz said the $65 million project is on budget, “even though construction costs have escalated tremendously” in recent years.

As for the project’s time line, he said planning started in earnest in 2013 to 2014. The agency has given various estimates throughout the years for when the facility would be done — at one point it said 2017.

The goal was to get it built as soon as possible, Neidetz said. “... I would attribute the delay in large part to the challenges of siting.”

A lot in Fircrest that had been a top contender was rejected in 2015, after testing showed it had unstable soil.

“We lost a good year with that,” Neiditz said. “And then we did have difficultly agreeing on an appropriate site.”

Another site fell through in 2016. The plan was to use the property at 3602 Pacific Ave. S., but that would have involved moving the county’s health department and social services division into one building across the street. In the end, the county decided the building they had in mind for that was too small.

Ultimately officials decided on the site of the old Puget Sound Hospital at 3580 Pacific Ave. in Tacoma.

“And since our current site is a county-owned site, we needed to deal with the county to arrange for its availability, if you will,” he said.

The old hospital was demolished last year, in advance of the project.

South Sound 911 also decided last year not to use a developer, which meant dropping the team the agency had been working with for more than a year. An architecture firm now is in charge of the planning and engineering, and the agency will hire a construction company next year via public bids.

They lost time, but not money on the switch, Neiditz said.

The original approach involved an “expedited design and construction process with a guaranteed maximum cost.” But officials ultimately decided the other way gave South Sound 911 more control of the project, and would allow the agency to own the land — according to meeting minutes and press releases.

That’s “what most government buildings around here were built with,” Neiditz said. “... our stakeholders are much more familiar” with that process.

South Sound 911 will choose the construction bid it thinks is best, and bring it to each of its two governing boards for approval. One board is made up of police and fire chiefs and the other of elected officials.

The funds voters approved will be enough to cover the costs of the project, Neiditz said.

“It’s a $65 million bond that would pay for the construction project and then we are budgeting the debt service until 2037,” he said.

About 250 people will work in the building when it’s ready.

It will house 911 services, along with the agency’s administrative offices and public records division — which also handles concealed pistol licenses, fingerprinting and other services.

At some point the plan was to have a second, smaller building on the site for those departments, but now everyone is expected to be under one roof.

“I feel very confident about the time line,” Neiditz said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell
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