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Greenwood Center targeted for 911 center

Date: 6/17/2015

LONGMEADOW – A consultant team representing the Carell Group recently identified the Greenwood Center as the ideal site for a proposed Hampden County Regional Emergency Communication Center (RECC).

The consultant team met with the Select Board at its June 15 meeting, presenting details about the $5.7 million project, which would serve the communities of Longmeadow, Hampden, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow and Ludlow.

Greg Carell, founder of the Carell Group based in Hopkinton, said the Greenwood Center has been chosen as the ideal site because it is conducive to renovations.

The plans for the Hampden County RECC include a space of 90,000 square feet composed of a dispatch room, offices, space for technology equipment, staff support areas and a training room, he added.

A building renovation would cost $3.3 million and soft costs would be $2.4 million, Carell noted.

George Fosque, retired director of 911 services for Cambridge, said within the next two years 911 operations would include the option for callers to send video feeds and images to dispatchers.

“Seventy percent of 911 calls are from cell phones,” he added. “This is a huge change in the last few years. Those cell phone calls are not being answered here now. So, if one of you is at home and your cell phone is on your night table and your spouse is having a heart attack, you’re going to pick that cell phone up and that call is going to Northampton, to the state police.

“They’re going to have a little conversation with you and then hopefully quickly transfer you to a Longmeadow police dispatcher, who will get the ambulance rolling from Longmeadow’s Fire [Department],” he continued.

One-third of 911 calls are held by the state police for more than a minute, Fosque noted.

“This is rare in the U.S. not to take your own cell phone calls directly,” he added. “Massachusetts is a real outlier here.”

According to information from team’s slideshow presentation, there is $8 million in grant funding available for 911 developments annually throughout the Commonwealth. A Hampden County RECC could be awarded $5 million during the course of two to three years.

Fosque said it could be more cost effective for the town to share 911 communication gear with neighboring communities and a five-town RECC would offer the greatest opportunity for the highest performing 911 operation.

“It’s going to have sufficient staffing,” he added. “We’re talking four to five people on duty at one time rather than one [person]. You’ll be able to take cell calls to handle peaks that happen – fire and police, multiple events at the same time.”

The Hampden County RECC would also eliminate liabilities of a one-person center, he noted.

There is also the possibility of recruiting towns beyond the current five communities, Fosque said. A three-or four-town RECC could potentially work as well if one or more of the communities decided not to be a part of the project.

“You don’t want to be too big, but you want to be big enough so you can lower the cost of all the participants,” he added.

Town Manager Stephen Crane said the Hampden County RECC has been in the works for more than a year and has brought communities together for a common interest.

The group indicated that construction could begin in the summer of 2016.

Selectman Alex Grant asked if funding would be secure prior to the possible renovation starting.

“If they can give you the first $2 million, they can give you the second,” Carell responded to Grant. “That’s happened in the last five years. They have not backed away from anybody, except for somebody that said, ‘Well, I’m not interested anymore.’”

Crane said he asked the same question to the state 911 office and their answer was that they can’t make promises about future revenue streams, but every project that has started construction was finished.  

“There are more than half a dozen now and counting,” he added.   

Grant described the grant funding method as slightly similar to the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s (MSBA) building program.

The board previously voted against submitting statements of interest to the MSBA for Williams and Glenbrook middle schools, which would have begun the process of examining both schools for a potential project, pending approval by the MSBA.

“It sounds a little better than that,” he added.

Selectman Mark Gold stated there are numerous examples of the state not keeping its promises of funding such as in the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, which is supposed to be fully funded for regional transportation annually, but the case has not been so during the past several years.

Gold also criticized a lack of full funding from the MSBA for the construction of Longmeadow High School (LHS).

“We’re sitting in a building [LHS] that we have overrun on the building because the state’s chosen not to hold up what we thought was the original deal,” he added.  

Gold said the long-term cost implications for the Hampden County RECC could turn out to be “pretty menacing” to smaller communities having to “come up with big money.”

Selectman Marie Angelides responded to Gold by noting that funding for the RECC comes from a surcharge off of cell phones. There is also a designated fund for 911 grants and money does not come out the state’s General Fund.

The board did not take a vote to endorse the idea of the Hampden County RECC, but will do so at a future meeting.