By Gary Gray
Washington County 911 Director Bob McNeil has been very patient.
He has made pitches and pleas to county officials for a new building for years.
They have included not only facts and figures about the need for expansion, but also details of rain-soaked walls and a failing structure at the nearly 120-year-old 401 Ashe St. location.
In February, 911 used $1.5 million of its own resources to purchase a building and land at 4722 Lake Park Dr., where in November, 911 and Johnson City/Washington County Emergency Management Agency should be in operation.
The new location is near the Boones Creek exit at Interstate 26. The department incurred no new debt to pull off the move, and the property was paid for with savings.
“It’s a newer building — a little more spacious,” McNeil said. “We were in a roughly 8,000-square-foot building, and we’ll be moving into about 12,000 square feet. We plan to add a couple of dispatchers, but we have not yet made those hires.
“EMA will be in the lower level. They will have about 4,000 square feet, which will double what they had. We paid $1.5 million, and we’re spending about $500,000 on renovations. We’re moving (from) a building well over a hundred years old to a 20-year-old building that has a lot more space. We’ll also have a lot more parking.”
For 29 years, 911 has operated inside what was a U.S. Post Office, and a county courthouse. Plans have been presented over the years to renovate Ashe Street property, but estimates nearly hit the $3 million mark.
The agency has two funding sources: Phone surcharges from landlines and mobile users and funding from the city and county. Surcharges pay for staffing and equipment; local government funding covers the cost for calls to be dispatched to law enforcement, fire and medical services through contracted agreements.
Washington County donated the facility for 911 to use, and the agency spent $250,000 renovating it before moving in.
“The old building will go back into Washington County ownership,” McNeil said. “There have been a few government agencies looking at it. It can’t be sold to developers at this time, and if the county does not use it, it goes back to federal ownership.”
McNeill said citizens should not experience any disruption in service while the move is finalized — either in 911 or EMA responses.