Stow -- Location, location, location.
As administrations from Stow, Tallmadge and Cuyahoga Falls discuss creating a regional safety dispatch center, a location has been designated if the plan comes to fruition.
While no agreements have been finalized, the Summit County Health Department building on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls is the frontrunner among officials from the three communities.
According to Cuyahoga Falls Finance Director Bryan Hoffman, who presented the proposed site at a joint meeting of the three City Councils and administrations on Sept. 20, three sites were visited by representatives of the three communities: the health department building; NEOnet, also on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls; and the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District's Central Offices on Allen Road in Stow.
He said both NEOnet and the health department building "had possibilities" for the regional dispatch center, but lower costs were predicted for the health department location by Motorola, which would be the provider of the necessary equipment and upgrades.
Current dispatching operations
Cuyahoga Falls' dispatch is located in Fire Station 5 on Wyoga Lake Road, while Stow's is at the Safety Center on Darrow Road.
Cuyahoga Falls presently dispatches all calls for Cuyahoga Falls, Munroe Falls and Silver Lake Village while Stow fields calls for Stow, Tallmadge, Mogadore and Randolph Township in Portage County through service contracts. Stow has 15 employees and Cuyahoga Falls, 11.
A state mandate took effect this year requiring Summit County to designate five public service answering points (PSAPs) to handle wireless calls to 911 and receive state funding. Selected were dispatch centers in Akron; the Summit County Sheriff's Office in Akron; Cuyahoga Falls; Stow; and the Southwest Summit Communications Center in Green.
When Ohioans pay their cell phone bills, 25 cents per month goes to a state surcharge to help fund wireless PSAPs. That revenue is then distributed to counties, which decide how the funds will be distributed to communities that operate PSAPs.
The state mandate further requires that by Jan. 1, 2018, the county must reduce the number of its PSAPs receiving wireless 911 funding from five to four, and new 911 call technology must be installed at that point.
Stow Dispatch Supervisor Ginger Hatfield said that mandate would result in one of the five PSAPs losing funding, making consolidation of Stow and Cuyahoga Falls an economical move.
The selected site
The proposed dispatch center would occupy 5,000 square feet in the back of the health department building. Hoffman said that would allow for up to 16 consoles, with the possibility of future expansion if necessary.
Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters said those 16 consoles could handle dispatching for the whole county if that was needed in the future.
Hoffman said the two present dispatching locations in Stow and Cuyahoga Falls could handle up to 10 consoles each, but it was believed that number may not be enough in the future.
Accessibility, especially with Route 8 adjacent, was also a factor in the choice, he added.
A lease agreement is still in discussion, Hoffman said, but he noted the health department was "only wanting to cover costs". He added that the lease terms with other tenants in the building looked "very favorable."
Should the department decide it wants to sell the building, Hoffman said the dispatch center would be given first choice to purchase.
Stow Mayor Sara Kline said the parties looked at how to physically expand the city's current dispatch center, but all agreed it would be "cost prohibitive."
Cuyahoga Falls City Councilwoman Mary Ellen Pyke (R-2) referenced flooding the health department building experienced in 2014 and expressed concern about a repeat. Cuyahoga Falls Engineer Tony Demasi said the county had taken steps to control that issue and no problems had arisen since at that site.
Kline acknowledged security was an important issue, as dispatching is a 24-hour, 365-day function. She explained there would be a dedicated entrance for the dispatch center as well as walls to be constructed separating the center from other parts of the building. This would allow the center to have its own restrooms and kitchen area, she added.
Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis said individuals would enter the county building with a key card, and then go through a separate entrance for the dispatch center itself. When asked if officers would be on site to provide security, he responded that 24-hour security is not provided at the Cuyahoga Falls dispatch, but "there's a pretty good flow" of officers dropping off and picking up paperwork.
Stow Police Chief Jeff Film echoed Davis' comments, saying most likely there will be officers there most of the time. He added that with security cameras and key codes, "we'll make it difficult for anyone to get in."
Cuyahoga Falls City Councilman Jeff Iula (R-At Large) noted the Falls dispatch center was only about 10 years old and inquired what would be done with the space if the merger takes place.
Cuyahoga Falls Fire Chief Paul Moledor said it would be repurposed, adding emphatically "I would love to have it back."
The parties were invited to tour the proposed site at the health department building on Sept. 27 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.