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SEATTLE, WA-The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Puget Sound on February 28th did more than rock the region. It served to push through a five-year effort to create a new Regional Communications and Emergency Coordination Center.

King County’s present emergency response centers are inadequate and vulnerable. So Councilman Rob McKenna tells GlobeSt. Wanting to be more adequately prepared for the possibility of future disasters the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee, chaired by McKenna, gave its approval this week to spending approximately $3.6 million for the new facility, which would house both King County Sheriff’s 911 Communication Center and the County’s Office of Emergency Management.

At present, the 911 call center is located in the basement of the county courthouse. McKenna says not only does that building provide inadequate working conditions, but its survivability in a major earthquake or other natural disaster is questionable. And, according to the councilman, the present Office of Emergency Management is vulnerable as well—its single-story brick building lying upon the old riverbed that is the King County Airport (aka Boeing Field). That airfield suffered significant damage in the 7.0 shaker.

McKenna says the new center would “be state of the art” and would be able to withstand virtually any assault Nature might send its way. The 35,000-sf building will be constructed on about 5.5 acres within the county’s 100-acre road maintenance operations campus at 155 Monroe Ave. NE in Renton. The facility would also include a 190-ft radio tower and 135 parking spaces.

McKenna’s committee this week approved a total budget of approximately $30.6 million for the center, $11 million of which would go toward actual construction costs. The remainder would be spent on “soft costs,” such as planning, moving the facilities, equipping the center and the training of personnel.

Groundbreaking is anticipated in January of next year, with the facility opening in August 2003. However, McKenna says the committee is considering four options to speed up the process—which altogether could result in an opening as much as six months earlier than the present target. The first option calls for paying an additional $14,500 to the City of Renton to expedite the permitting process. The second calls for $50,000 to pull together a site-ready package in advance of construction. Third, the county would spend $50,000 to move up the training schedule and work construction such that the building could be occupied before all of the finish-work is complete.

Lastly, an option McKenna says holds the least amount of appeal is paying a premium to have the blueprints completed 18 days early. The problem is that the architects are asking $87,000, which McKenna says “seems to be far too much to pay for an additional 18 days.” But he adds, “We’re still negotiating.”

The net cost of acceleration, notes McKenna, may actually be less as construction bids are coming in lower than initially expected. Temporary funding for the project would come in the form of bond anticipation notes sometime next year.

Architects on the projects are Hewitt Architects of Seattle and, Ross & Drulis of Sonoma, Calif. The Ross firm is the only non-local member of the team and was selected for its experience in designing numerous police facilities with emergency-management capabilities. The civil engineer is Symonds Consulting Engineers. Geotechnical engineer/telecommunications designer is Sparling. The Greenbusch Group is the mechanical engineer, and Skilling Ward Magnusson Barkshire is the structural engineer.

The proposal is expected for final consideration before the full council on Monday, September 10.

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