With Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony, city and county officials celebrated planned construction of a $6 million 911 Communications Center that will more than double the current capacity at a new address that’s well-suited for its work, 911 N. 24th St. The new center will have about 9,200 sq. ft., including about 2,300 for dispatchers. When it’s finished in 2018, it’ll replace the current facility, which has about 1,000 sq. ft. for dispatchers.
Anne Kindness, who’s directed the center for 27 years, said dispatchers outgrew the current building a decade ago. Dispatchers at the current center, at 2300 Ninth Ave. North, handle emergency calls for Billings Police, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s deputies, Billings firefighters, AMR ambulance crews, the crash/fire/rescue team at the airport, 15 rural departments, and various state and federal agencies from seven work stations, “and that’s just not enough,” Kindness said.
The current center, across the street from where the new one will be completed in about a year, is about 1,000 sq. ft. and is crammed with integrated radio systems and computer-aided dispatch systems that it was not designed to hold. The new center will have a dozen work stations and sufficient storage space “so that everything isn’t floor-to-ceiling with records and files,” she said. “We are quite excited to be able to live as human beings.”
CTA Architects Engineers designed the new center. Fisher Construction is the general contractor. Construction cost will be about $3.5 million.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said he believes the new center will help stem turnover among dispatchers, which has been a longstanding concern among first responders and elected officials. “It requires a tremendous skill set to work the police radio. It’s knowledge and experience that takes a long time to develop,” he said. “The turnover has to be involved with the environment they have to work in, and this new facility will help remedy all of that. Their ability to spread out and make things more user-friendly — that will help all of public safety.”
Having the construction occurring in view of dispatchers is an added bonus, she said. “We are so lucky the construction is going on right across the street,” she said. “We have the wonderful advantage of watching this progress. There are a lot of staff members who thought this would never happen.”