BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
All options are still on the table as Vermilion County continues to search for a solution to the less-than-ideal conditions at the county’s Emergency Management Agency building.
Up until the beginning of this year, the building — the former South Danville TV site at 2705 Georgetown Road — housed the Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency as well as the county coroner’s office. It was purchased by the county in July 2005 with federal funds.
Beginning last year, however, county officials started looking at ways to deal with the building — which has had a long list of problems, ranging from an outdated electrical system, plumbing problems and a leaking roof.
EMA Director Ted Fisher said the county is working to come up with a long-term solution at this point, and not “just put off the problem.” He indicated the hope is that an answer can be reached within the current year.
Fisher said the county is looking at the possibility of operating the EMA offices out of a different location and use the current EMA property to store equipment in the existing warehouse.
Finding a potential location is not easy, according to Fisher, who indicated there are several hurdles to overcome.
Actually there is square footage available in the county but then the site might lack parking or high speed Internet, or “they would not like us installing a 100-foot radio tower at their site,” he said. “So there are a lot of considerations you have to plan for. Even response times for our equipment.”
Working from two locations is a new idea and represents a change from last fall when county officials were considering building a lean-to structure against the current EMA warehouse to allow for new EMA offices.
Unfortunately, simply moving the entire operation to a new location isn’t an option yet for the county. Because the site was purchased with federal funds, the county would have to return the money used to buy the building if the EMA headquarters is moved because it would be considered a misuse of the grant money.
Fisher said the county still is researching the options with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see if any modifications would allow the local EMA office to simply move its entire operations.
The county is moving cautiously to make sure it doesn’t make the same mistake twice with the EMA operations location.
“Funding is always a problem, but we don’t want to set up another money pit like we have now,” Fisher said. “And we don’t want to have to move again and waste tax dollars. There is a considerable cost to move radio/Internet/warning systems. So we are looking for long term options.”
The EMA operations — once a city/county joint department — resided for a little more than 25 years in a below-ground level of the Public Safety Building. The department’s eventual move allowed the 911 system to expand to that level, located about 35 feet underground.
One county office has been in the process of moving out of the EMA building this month. Coroner Peggy Johnson has moved several items from her office’s previous location to a new home at 123 N. Hazel St. The building — formerly the Modern Machine Shop — was purchased by the county in 2010.
Johnson said she is “excited to finally have a home” for her office after several rough years at the EMA building. Soon after she moved operations to a rear office there in 2008, heavy spring rains flooded the back area.
Johnson said she has seen as much as 6 inches of water in her back office at times, ruining some office equipment in the process.
“They tried everything to fix it,” she said.
Prior to this month’s move, Johnson said she had been forced to work out of the EMA building’s hazardous materials room while chief deputy coroner Karla Wilson was set up in the building’s copier room.
The coroner’s office is expected to be fully moved into the new location sometime in February, Johnson said.