Iola building draws interest

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Allen County commissioners haven’t yet decided on location of a new 911 emergency services dispatch center or where to station county ambulances on a permanent basis, but gave a hint Tuesday morning.
“The REA building (previous home of Heartland Rural Electric Co-operative offices, 410 N. State) seems ideal,” Chairman Dick Works said. “There would also be room for the EOC (emergency operation center),” and adequate space for ambulances and their personnel, he added.
Commissioners have toured LaHarpe Elementary School, shuttered by USD 257 as a cost-saving measure, and the basement of Emprise Bank in Humboldt. Humboldt’s City Hall eventually will occupy the ground floor of the bank and the county was encouraged to consider the basement for 911 dispatch and emergency operations centers.
LaHarpe school, a metal building, is 30 years old and “metal buildings have a history of having about 25-year lives,” Works said. Also, he noted converting the school to county use would require construction to make areas storm-proof.
Pam Beasley, emergency manager, said there were some structural concerns with a radio tower attached to the Heartland building, but a tower would likely need to be erected if another site were chosen. She said a generator in the building “checked out OK.”
Beasley mentioned that grant money from Homeland Security might be available to help purchase and upgrade a building, but that would require a pre-purchase application. “I don’t think you could buy a building and then get a grant to pay yourself back,” she told commissioners.
Commissioners have put construction of a proposed ambulance station in Gas on hold.
Last year, before commissioners Gary McIntosh and Rob Francis were elected, the county was awarded a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant for and took bids on a permanent ambulance station and 911 center along U.S. 54 in Gas. The new commission returned the money and asked for design-and-build bids on a scaled-down station costing about $200,000. Several companies indicated interest, but commissioners have not discussed the proposals.
Works said discussion might quicken next week when Francis, who was on vacation, returns. Also next week, commissioners will tackle a proposed budget that includes a 29 percent tax increase, a level of spending Works said a week ago wasn’t acceptable.