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Public safety building would bring emergency services under one roof

A Williamsport public safety building is expected to cost millions of dollars, but could modernize police, fire, codes and emergency management services.

The idea is under consideration as Mayor Derek Slaughter considers options for city facilities and improved accessibility.

Police are on board, as are fire, codes and UPMC Williamsport, he said.

It would be a “dream facility,” said city police Chief Damon R. Hagan.

“We put it on a drawing,” said Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator, who was assisted by Jon Sander, city engineer.

The design was shown recently to council’s ad hoc committee on the City Hall building. Officials are exploring options for a public safety building in conjunction with the county and UPMC.

UPMC might be able to provide the land for the construction, Hagan said. Ongoing negotiations between the hospital, city and Lycoming County commissioners are taking place, he said.

“It would mean the police would remain at City Hall or relocate to a temporary facility while the larger one is funded and built,” Hagan said.

UPMC was approached by the city and other community leaders for interest in a partnership to develop a joint public safety building to serve the needs of the community, said Tyler Wagner, a UPMC spokesman.

“The organizations have met a few times and preliminary discussions continue related to the details of this proposed partnership, including the potential of UPMC providing space on one of its campuses for the structure,” Wagner said.

“I would certainly be one for the city and county to do something together,” said Lycoming County Commissioner Rick Mirabito.

He noted, however, that such projects are always driven by costs.

A public safety building has been on the radar screen of county officials in the past, and “exploratory discussions” were held in 2016, Mirabito said.

Back then, possible locations for pubic safety included the former Weis Markets building at 620 W. Third St., Williamsport, now occupied by ImmunoTek Bio Centers, a company specializing in plasma collection.

The city plan indicates a lower-level garage that police, emergency medical technicians and firefighters would use.

It also projects about 20 parking stalls, room for storage and a place for police to conduct forensic searches should they have to look through a vehicle that was seized, Gerardi said.

The plan shows about 13,000 square feet of space for fire apparatus, housing a fire truck, pumpers, rescue vehicle, ambulances, and special operations vehicle for police, he said.

If the building is constructed, the space allows the city to sell its Walnut Street fire headquarters, its Reighard Avenue facility and the emergency medical services building on Sherman Street.

“We could sell those and recuperate some revenue,” Gerardi said.

The employees and visitors in the building would have access to two elevators and two stairways.

One of the elevators would be used by police to bring in any suspects or witnesses and they would then go up to the first-floor police office, he said.

The building would have room for officers, detectives, evidence collection storage, weapons storage and showers, according to the draft plan.

The second floor of the building indicates a place for police offices, a weight room, break and lunch rooms, and 11,500 square feet of open floor space.

“That would allow us to expand if someone wanted to jump aboard, like the coroner,” Gerardi said, referring to the Lycoming County coroner’s ongoing search for larger yet affordable facilities.

“Any architect will design differently,” he said. “I made it simple and functional for our needs.”

UPMC is critical to the partnership, not only to put ambulance and emergency medical service personnel in the building but to provide land for it, Hagan said.

Meanwhile, the need for a new space for coroner facilities is not going away.

In fact, Coroner Charles Kiessling said with COVID-19 cases spiking of late, the demand couldn’t be greater.

“I always worry about a glut of bodies,” he said. “We could exceed our capacity.”

But well before the coronavirus pandemic, Kiessling was asking county officials for another building to house all the services needed to properly accommodate his department.

A new building, he said, is likely cost-prohibitive, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of relocating coroner facilities and other services to another location.

It could house not only the coroner’s department but operations for Central Processing and DUI processing, according to Kiessling.

Mirabito conceded that another location for the coroner facilities is definitely “a problem that needs to be solved.”

“We have been looking primarily at the coroner’s facility and whether it can be combined with other departments,” he said. “It’s always a question of what the cost will be.”

Mark Maroney may be emailed at mmaroney@sungazette.com. Mike Reuther may be emailed at mreuther@sungazette.com

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