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Building will complete $77 million upgrade of emergency radio communications system that voters approved in 2016, with new digital equipment and towers to expand coverage area.

PMG PHOTO BY PETER WONG - Ground breaking on Thursday, Nov. 14, for the new $26 million Washington County emergency radio communications center in Hillsboro. From left: Alex Fernandez, Susan Gantt, both from Architects Design Group; Susan Balogh, Trent Jorgensen, both from Scott/Edwards Architecture; Kathy McAlpine, Tigard police chief; Kelly Dutra, executive director, Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency; Kathryn Harrington, Washington County board chair; Beach Pace, Hillsboro city councilor; Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle; Michael Kinkade, Forest Grove fire chief.
Washington County will soon have a dispatch center that will complete a $77 million upgrade of the emergency radio communications network that voters approved in 2016.

Officials broke ground Thursday, Nov. 14, on a new center for the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency on a 6-acre site in Hillsboro, next to the Five Oaks West Business Park. When completed in spring 2021, the center will field police, fire and medical calls and dispatch help in the county, 12 cities and five fire districts. The agency also handles calls from out-of-county cities (Newberg, West Linn and Wilsonville) within Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue district.

At $26 million, including equipment, the center will account for about one-third of the bond issue that Washington County voters approved in May 2016 to upgrade radio equipment to digital technology, replace 3,000 obsolete analog radios used by member agencies, and build new towers to expand coverage.

"Here we are today celebrating the opportunity to create a new emergency dispatch center that is safe, secure and seismically stable," said Kathryn Harrington, Washington County board chair. "With up-to-date technology and dedicated communications experts, we will be able to maintain continuity of operations in response to almost any threat."

The agency, which employs about 100, is separate from county government and has its own governing board. But the county administrative staff prepared the bond, and the county board of commissioners put it on the 2016 ballot.

"Members of our team have helped us with our capital needs every step of the way," said Kelly Dutra, who has been agency director nine years.

COURTESY WASHINGTON COUNTY CONSOLIDATED COMMUNICATIONS AGENCY - The current Washington County emergency communications center in Hillsboro. Ground was broken Thursday, Nov. 14, for a new $26 million center in Hillsboro. Completion is scheduled in spring 2021.Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle is board chairman of the agency, which was founded back in 1985 to put emergency radio communications under a single system.

"This doesn't happen in a lot of places in the United States," Doyle said. "Regional cooperation and partnerships are the keys to making this a reality. This agency is living proof of that sentence. We must be ready to work as one when the need calls."

Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine paid tribute to emergency communications workers, who get less visibility than uniformed police, firefighters and medical technicians.

"This gold line represents those who are rarely seen and mostly unheard. A calm voice on a dark night, dispatch is the golden glue that holds it all together," said McAlpine, who leads the Washington County Law Enforcement Council.

"Dispatchers deal with people who are highly emotional, scared, traumatized, angry and sometimes noncommunicative. They are highly trained to get that vital information so they can dispatch help."

Scott/Edwards Architecture of Portland and Architects Design Group, with offices in Dallas, Texas, and Winter Park, Fla., are the architects on the project. Corp Inc. Construction of Salem is the general contractor.

When the 30,500-square-foot building is completed, Washington County will own the building. Bassam Khalifeh, senior project manager for capital improvements, said it took some time to find a suitable site that met requirements for access, security, and backup power and water supplies.

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