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  • mankejpaul

It's May

This May 3 update is from the office of Giles County Executive Graham Stowe.

Hard to believe we’re into May! I hope everyone is enjoying their spring.

In county government, the coming of spring means budget season, so the next couple months will involve a great deal of budget deliberations. 

In the background, however, a number of county projects are moving forward.

First, I’d like to highlight that our new county website went live just over a month ago.

Our county website is much improved, but the web address is the same -  You’ll find all county departments with their services and contact information, and most important of all, the redesigned site navigation makes it a lot easier to find what you’re looking for. 

Probably the biggest upgrades are with the county calendar functions, because now I can easily upload and link pdf documents, such as agendas and budgets.  It’s a great leap forward in terms of public transparency, which was the ultimate goal when this project started over a year ago. 

Another thing you can do - for anyone who really wants to keep up with all-things-county government - you can subscribe to the calendar and get automatic updates to your phone or tablet. Also a new embedded app for ADA compliance was added.

There’s something new and improved for everybody who wants to keep up with county business. 

Next I want to highlight our most recent Employee of the Quarter in Giles County government - Shelby Thomas of the Finance Department. 

She does great work with payroll accounting, and she’s spearheaded administrative improvements in how we manage grant documents and capital asset management. 

So congratulations to Shelby Thomas; she’s a fantastic asset to Giles County and epitomizes our core values of integrity, stewardship, and excellence.

Now I need to provide an update on where we stand with a couple of projects related to emergency services. 

First there’s the new Ambulance HQ, which I’ve briefed before.  The commission previously committed to siting the building at the Agri Park, and that project is in the design phase. 

That project is squarely in the county government domain, as the Ambulance Service is a county-administered operation.

A somewhat dissimilar project running concurrently - something I haven’t briefed before - involves the E911 Dispatch Center, and for that I need to provide some background.

E911 is not a county agency - the best term I can use to define it is that it’s quasi-governmental.

E911 is funded by local governments but administered by an appointed Board of Directors, and they have their own budget, statutorily set apart from county and city governments.

That said, the existing E911 structure is a county building on county property, so while the county doesn’t administer E911 operations, county government does have a vested interest.

The E911 Board has been wrestling with myriad variables and building options for the Dispatch Center, from renovation to additions to a brand new construction.  For different and valid reasons (outlined below) the Board decided a new building is necessary.  

That backdrop leads into a discussion on the need for two new facilities - one for the ambulance service and one for E911. 

Now here’s the kicker, and it gets into the issue of unfunded mandates.

I’m still questioning and learning about building codes but as I understand, the state requires us to follow stringent codes because these buildings are considered critical infrastructure. 

Imagine a tornado blowing through the county - the codes make sense on this point - because no matter the calamity, we would need to sustain critical emergency functions, such as ambulance and E911 services.

So these facilities must be designed and constructed to withstand natural disasters and sustain 7x24 operations. The code assigns these buildings to a “Category-4” status, meaning they have to be built to the highest strength.

Simply put, this equates to a lot of reinforced concrete and steel.  As for the sticker shock I, building to Category-4 codes in 2024 is estimated at about $700/square feet.

The E911 Board reviewed options to renovate and/or expand their existing facility, but architects and engineers strongly advised against the “lipstick on a pig” option.

Retrofitting old buildings and bringing them up to modern code requirements would be cost prohibitive.  So the “build new” option prevailed with the E911 Board.

I summarized this background at a recent Building Committee, with a recommendation that - in terms of building costs - we’re much better off building just one Cat-4 building, which lends itself to the idea of collocating E911 with the Ambulance Service. 

The engineers we’re using for the Ambulance building agreed that it would be significantly more efficient to collocate these services rather than building two separate Tier-4 buildings.  But it’s still $700/sf, and given the necessary footprint for ambulance and E911 services, the estimated cost is roughly $9.6M, which includes 15% for engineering services and an additional 15% for contingencies.  

Hindsight is always 20/20, but it would’ve been about half that cost if we’d done this project in 2018 or earlier. 

But looking ahead, I’m  betting our costs could double if we tried to kick this issue out for another five or six years. 

I’ve told the A/E firm that we’re going to value-engineer this project and look for areas to scale back project costs, but there’s no question that we have to move these projects forward.

The E911 Board voted unanimously for co-allocation, as did the Building Committee, so we’ll see if the Commission agrees when we meet May 20.  

I expect the next update will involve some Fiscal Year 2024-2025 budget projections along with other updates. Thanks for reading.  

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