Shovel-tossed ceremonial dirt had hardly settled Tuesday morning before a crew began setting up to survey the site of the new $3.9 million Wayne County 911 and Emergency Operations Center on Clingman Street.
Wayne County officials were joined by representatives of the city, Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for the brief groundbreaking ceremony.
Along with housing emergency telecommunicators, the center will have offices for emergency management and the fire marshal.
It also will serve as a backup center for Duplin County — a partnership which played into Wayne County receiving $1.5 million for the project through the state 911 Board.
Jackson Builders won the bid for the work. The facility was designed by Stewart, Cooper, Newell Architects.
Wayne County commissioners will pay cash for the approximately 12,000-square-foot secure call center to be located on an 18.7-acre lot between the county Facilities Services Office and the animal shelter.
“We already have the money set aside for a couple of years,” County Manager Craig Honeycutt said. “When (former County Manager) George (Wood) was here, they set the money aside.
“They are starting now. They are starting to get permits. You will probably see some grading done and some trees down in the next week or so.”
The project is expected to take a year to complete.
“We went through a couple of different designs where we looked at shrinking the office space and shrinking the square footage and looking at other options just for offices,” Honeycutt said. “The bids came back. We were very excited with Jackson Builders.
“And the bid came back very well, so it allowed us to go back to our original thought process.”
The new center will replace the offices that have been located in the Jeffreys Building for the past 20 years. Once the move is made to the new center, the Jeffreys Building will serve as a backup center.
Chris Barnes, who came up through the ranks during the past 11 years through Wayne County’s 911 center, is in his second month as its 911 center manager. He started in 2008 as a part-time telecommunicator after starting his 911 career in Columbus County.
“We had a new center built while I was there,” Barnes said. “But that was experienced as a telecommunicator and not as a manager. I am excited. I don’t know if you can tell.
“Ultimately, it is going to mean a lot, not just for us within the center but the responders as well. We are not completely cramped where we are right now, but it is a smaller facility. The larger facility is going to allow us expansion, and that is where we need to head — expansion, more positions.”
Also, the center is going to be bringing on new protocols, including emergency medical dispatch, which could potentially warrant more help, Barnes said.
Things are changing for 911 in the county, and the center is a positive start, he said.
The center has experienced a steady increase in calls. One non-emergency factor has been the number of misdialed calls since the change several years ago requiring 10-digit dialing within the 919 area code, Barnes said.
“We end up with a lot of 919 hangup calls,” he said. “People mistakenly dial 911, so that has been an increase, and it has been an increase for centers across the state with similar area codes.
“And just generally as population rises, and industry and whatnot, there is always an increase. It is going to continue to rise.”
“John Wayne once said, ‘Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway,’” said Wayne County Commissioner and veteran firefighter Wayne Aycock. “Our dispatchers and all of our first responders saddle up every day, and thank them for their service.”
All good things are worth waiting for, and many people have waited for the new center for a long time, Aycock said.
In 2015, commissioners approved a feasibility study to look at refurbishing the existing call center, which eventually led to deciding on a new location, he said.
“Thank you for waiting as long as you have because we have been promising this for several years,” Aycock said.
The Jeffreys Building location had originally been expected to service for 10 or so years, said Joe Gurley, commission chairman and former longtime Office of Emergency Services director for the county.
It will have served for 20 years by the time the new center is open, he said.
“We knew when we went into the Jeffreys Building it was not the longevity we were wanting, but it was the perfect place at the right time,” he said. “It has served its purpose well. It has well done its job.
“We are in the process of going forward, and to stand here today and know these dedicated employees will have the facility and tools to effectively serve our citizens is outstanding. It is indeed a great day.”
Jeff Shipp, of Clinton and representing the state 911 Board, praised Gurley for his many trips to Raleigh to advocate for the county.
“I can assure you his comments helped with this grant application, along with Mr. Honeycutt,” Shipp said. “I serve on the grant committee, and these applications are tough and demanding. It’s all about partnerships as well.
“The partnership with Duplin County and the way the 911 centers work together is very important. Chris, you have been smiling since I got here, and I know you are excited for what is coming in the future.”