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It’s a long way from the glimmering, glass-encased downtown tower that Raleigh leaders once envisioned, but a 911 center and emergency operations hub planned on vacant land near the Beltline can meet the city’s immediate public safety needs, experts hired by the city have determined.
And with an estimated price tag of $68.9 million, the scaled-back project is far more politically palatable, a reality that became clear last week as City Council members agreed to spend $3 million to commission more detailed planning and design.
The previous round of talks for a new public safety center broke down amid disagreements, largely over a $175 million price tag. Raleigh abandoned the project, known as the Lightner Center, after spending $9 million on design work.
The new approach calls for breaking the project into phases, starting with a 911 center considered a critical need.
In a presentation last week, architectural firm Pearce Brinkley showed an institutional-looking, mid-rise building surrounded by grass, a large parking lot and a security fence.
The six-acre site, on city-owned land at North Raleigh Boulevard and Brentwood Road, is large enough to accommodate the 95,000-square-foot complex while leaving enough room for security buffers, Pearce Brinkley said.
“I think it’s the right size for the city of Raleigh,” said Councilman John Odom. “It has the potential to grow a little bit, not that we will need it to grow any time soon.”
A threat and security analysis found the site’s vulnerability is “within tolerable range” for things such as a mail bomb, car bomb or ballistic attack.
During talks on the Lightner tower, opponents argued the 911 center doesn’t belong in a downtown high-rise, where it could be vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
In addition to a 911 call center, the complex will include space for an emergency operations center and information-technology data center. The city would issue bonds to pay for the facility, City Manager Russell Allen said. No property tax increase would be required – also a sticking point in the previous debate.
A preliminary timeline calls for construction to begin in mid-2014 with the facility to open in late 2015.
The site does not offer enough space for a police district branch, Pearce Brinkley found. “It pushes you into needing a parking deck to accommodate the police cars,” said architect Clymer Cease.
Emergency call-takers now work in a cramped bunker in the basement of City Hall. The city has no emergency operations center.