Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort and other officials unveiled a recently completed 10,000-square-foot addition to the county’s public safety building on Wednesday, touting it as crucial to emergency management staff in responding to any future natural or manmade disasters that may arise.
“We’ve been knocked down a few times in this county over the last 15 years or so,” said Ossenfort. “We’ve had three major floods and we’ve come to understand what the new normal is, and what we need to be prepared for.”
That preparation was almost exactly one year in the making. In mid-October of last year, Ossenfort and other county officials broke ground in front of the existing public safety building, which houses the Sheriff’s Department and county jail, to announce that construction for the project was under way.
Bonding for the project was approved in late 2014 by the county legislature. An additional $15,000 was secured by Sen. George Amedore’s office, and the project benefited from a $135,000 grant from NYS Division of Homeland Security. The county executive’s office said the total bill for the addition came to $3.9 million.
The new wing of the facility now houses the county’s office of emergency management, probation department, public defender’s office and mental health department. All of those offices, aside from mental health, were previously located in the county office building in Fonda, which officials said was prone to flooding.
Ossenfort said he remembers mopping up the old emergency operations center when it flooded years ago. “I had to pull out a mop and actually start mopping – that was the state of our buildings at that point,” said Ossenfort.
Ossenfort said the county’s OEM office will take up about half of the 10,000 square foot addition, with office space for the other departments sharing the remainder. OEM’s half includes a large command center-style conference room with several flat screen TVs, phone bank, and a large and detailed map of the county, along with other smaller meeting rooms and support areas.
“This is an extremely proud day because in typical Montgomery County fashion, yes we’ve gotten knocked down, but we always get back up, and we get back up stronger,” said Ossenfort.
Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Jeff Smith said county staff were “proud, excited and honored” to move into the new facility.
“Compared to where we came from, it’s just unbelievable to us,” said Smith.
The county executive’s office said about 30 staff members will be based out of the new facility.
But perhaps no one was more happy, or surprised, at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting than longtime county employee Lucille Sitterly.
Sitterly began her career with the county in 1969 when she took a position as a social services caseworker. She became a probation officer in 1989 before moving up to a probation supervisor position in 1995. In 2004 she was appointed to the position of probation director, which she’s held ever since.
On Wednesday, Sitterly was one among dozens of county staffers standing behind Ossenfort and other officials talking about the project. Near the end of the event, Ossenfort called her to the podium to make a surprise announcement.
“There’s not many people in this world that I have more respect for than the woman standing right next to me,” said Ossenfort, before announcing that the 10,000-square-foot addition would henceforth be known as the “Lucille Sitterly Wing at the Montgomery County Public Safety Facility.”
The designation is commemorated by a plaque in the entranceway to the new facility, which reads: Probation Director Lucille Sitterly has left a lasting mark on Montgomery County as an important member of the county leadership team and a respected leader in the community. The County of Montgomery shows grateful recognition for the dedicated service and commitment Director Sitterly has provided to the residents of this county by making her name a permanent part of this public safety facility.”
Ossenfort said he doesn’t know how he kept the dedication a secret from Sitterly for so long, and an anecdote about what seemed like an overreaction from coworkers when she almost stumbled upon the plaque in the office one day finally made sense to her.
“If our team can have half of the integrity, work ethic and dedication that you have, we’ll be all set,” said Ossenfort.
Sitterly said she had no idea this was coming and was overwhelmed, but quickly regained her composure and credited the project’s completion to Ossenfort and the county legislature.
“I’ve worked here continuously since 1969,” she said. “This building was first planned in 1996, and then again in 2004, and it took [Ossenfort] and this board of legislators to finally bring it to fruition. I say to everybody, ‘I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.’ This is just a wonderful facility.”
Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.