Montgomery County officials on Thursday gathered outside the Sheriff’s Department in Fultonville to formally break ground on an expanded Public Safety Facility that will move the county’s flood-prone Emergency Operations Center to higher ground.
“One of the first things that I pledged to do when I took office was to get our Emergency Operations Center out of the flood zone,” County Executive Matt Ossenfort said. “And today’s the day that we can sit back and say we’re getting this done.”
The $3.5 million project will add 10,000 square feet to the existing Sheriff’s Department and jail to house the county’s Emergency Operations Center as well as the offices of Emergency Management, Probation and Public Defender.
Those offices are currently in the county office building in Fonda, which officials say is prone to flooding.
“There’s been a number of times where you have to literally go through water to get to the Emergency Operations Center, and then when you get there, it’s in the basement of a very old building and it’s flooded itself,” Ossenfort said. “So to be up here on the hill will certainly give peace of mind to the people who put their lives on the line when the storms do happen.”
The county Legislature approved bonding for the project in December and awarded construction bids in August. Except for $15,000 from the state, secured through the office of state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, the project is being funded entirely by the county.
Jeffrey Smith, the county’s Emergency Management director, said the scale of the flooding was too minor to pull in major federal or state funding. Ossenfort said keeping it in the county’s budget also allowed for a swifter timeline.
“We’ve inquired about state funding, but county offices are not always high on the priority list,” Ossenfort said. “And frankly, we wanted to make sure we moved forward with this in a timely manner and got it done.”
The new facility will not only keep those offices dry, but unite all the county’s public safety agencies in one central complex. Probation Director Lucille Sitterly said that will mean more efficient communication between her office and the Sheriff’s Department and jail, which all work closely together.
The facility is expected to be operational next spring.
This is the first phase of a five- or six-year plan to upgrade the county’s office buildings. After this, Ossenfort said the county will turn its attention to renovating the building in Fonda that formerly housed the Emergency Operations Center. Further down the road, he hopes to move the county offices into that building from the “muddy pit” of the County Annex Building they’re currently in.
Officials said the improvements are part of the county’s adjustment to the “new normal,” which means expecting and preparing for more frequent flooding and natural disasters.
“Unfortunately, we know that they’re going to come again — it’s just a matter of what, where and when,” Smith said. “And we want to be as prepared as possible.”
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