BY RANDALL RIGSBEENews + Record StaffChatham County’s Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) approved by commissioners addresses a critical need for improved emergency radio communications, among …
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BY RANDALL RIGSBEE
News + Record Staff
Chatham County’s Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) approved by commissioners addresses a critical need for improved emergency radio communications, among other capital needs.
The newly-approved CIP, which county commissioner Diana Hales called a “master list of large ticket items the county has to fund or purchase,” includes a project new to the document to upgrade the county’s Emergency Communications Radio System.
The radio system upgrade, aimed at creating consistent and reliable radio communications for emergency responders throughout the county, will involve three new tower sites and connection to the NC VIPER radio system. It will cost an estimated $18.9 million and will be completed in FY 2021, with work on the project beginning next fiscal year, according to Hales.
Currently, Hales said, all emergency communications radios “are not equal” and there are pockets of inadequate radio coverage in the county.
“There’s no coverage in big chunks of the county,” Hales said.
The county board of commissioners approved the CIP, including the radio upgrade expenses, with a unanimous vote last week, and making only minor changes to the document that had been presented to the public.
Prior to adopting the seven-year CIP, which is updated every year as a process to plan for and fund the county’s major capital needs exceeding a $100,000 price tag, commissioners held a public hearing on the proposal at their November 19 meeting.
Only one county resident offered commissioners feedback on the document, which maps the county’s major capital spending projects through fiscal years 2020-26.
Stressing that the document is a “plan, not a budget,” interim county manager Dan LaMontagne noted to commissioners last month that the CIP is nevertheless an important component of the county’s annual budget-making process.
This year’s CIP closely mirrors last year’s, but with several revisions, including four new projects not previously included in the planning document.
New, for example, to this year’s CIP is an upgrade to the Emergency Communications Radio System, which county officials say is critical to consistent radio communications for all first responders throughout the county.
The radio system project will involve three new tower sites and connection to the NC VIPER radio system. It will cost an estimated $18.9 million and will be completed in FY 2021.
Other new additions to the newly-approved CIP’s funded projects are expansion of the Emergency Operations Center in Pittsboro to provide additional console space for 911 telecommunicators ($10 million); resurfacing of athletic tracks at all three high schools because of deterioration and expected life spans of tracks ($474,480, to be completed in FY 2022); and an addition of a second generator at the Sheriff’s Office Detention Center to ensure that the center can handle prolonged power outages, such as the recent hurricane impacts ($674,989, to be completed in FY 2023).
The CIP also includes recommended revisions to projects in the current CIP, based on changing needs or conditions.
County staff recommended, for example, more funding for a new Chatham County Schools Central Services Building. A study of space needs recommends a 34,000-square-foot, two-story facility to ensure sufficient space for offices, meeting rooms and storage for school administration. This increases the budget for the project, already in the CIP, by approximately $5 million, doubling the original planned cost.
The CIP also plans an increase county funding for improvements at Briar Chapel Park to include lighting for soccer fields at an estimated cost of $237,873. The work is expected to be completed in FY 2021 and will be funded by recreation fees from Briar Chapel.
November’s public hearing on the CIP generated comments from only one resident, Jane Gallagher of Pittsboro, who asked commissioners to consider expanding county recreational opportunities for young people.
Gallagher, who mentors a child, said the “only affordable program” for summer camps is the one offered at the county’s Northwest Park at $55 per week. But spots go quickly, she said, and once they are filled there are no other opportunities.
Gallagher asked commissioners if a center for summer camp activities could be built in the county complex in Pittsboro that houses the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center.
Hales, then-chairman of the Board of Commissioners and Monday night chosen by her colleagues to serve a term as vice-chair, agreed the county has “more to do” to address the needs Gallagher spoke of and noted that the county will present its master plan for Parks & Recreation this month.
The county’s Parks & Recreation Department reports that substantial progress has been made in developing an updated comprehensive master plan for parks, recreation and greenways and several opportunities are coming up for county residents to provide feedback on a draft of the plan.
Residents are invited to an open house where the draft master plan will be available for review and feedback.
The open house is scheduled from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 11 at the Chatham County Agricultural and Conference Center in Pittsboro.