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Allegheny County moving 911 Center to former US Airways site

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Allegheny County's 911 Center and Emergency Services Department will move into the former US Airways Operations Center in Moon, shown here in a 2008 photo.
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Allegheny County's 911 Center and Emergency Services Department will move into the former US Airways Operations Center in Moon, shown here in a 2008 photo.

Allegheny County announced Tuesday it will move its 911 Center and Department of Emergency Services to the former US Airways Operations Center in Moon.

The county will lease the space for $1.05 million a year, nearly double what it is paying for its space on North Lexington Avenue in Point Breeze.

The new facility will be 67,390 square feet. The Point Breeze facility offered 48,137 square feet at an average cost of $533,822 a year, according to a release from the county.

The move could take a year to 18 months to complete.

“We really think that it’s a tremendous opportunity to move into a state-of-the-art building to provide services for our community,” county Manager William McKain said, adding that it would cost a lot of money to make needed technology improvements at the Point Breeze location.

The county signed a 20-year lease for the former operations center with the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which bought the facility from American Airlines in January 2016 for $1.87 million. American Airlines moved out when it decided to consolidate its operations in Texas.

The operations center has been vacant since, said Alyson Walls, a spokeswoman for the airport authority. The airport authority has had no offers from other tenants since purchasing the building.

The county must pay to lease the building from the airport authority because the two are separate entities and funded through separate streams of money.

County Controller Chelsa Wagner released an audit in May , questioning the county’s decisions and process in looking for new spaces for departments and employees at the Point Breeze facility. The county will move its police department from Point Breeze to a property at Parkway Center Mall and pay more than double in rent for less space.

Wagner released a statement Tuesday reiterating her concern.

“If it is truly necessary to relocate the 911 Call Center from a facility into which county taxpayers have invested more than $3 million for improvements over the years, a public bidding process should have been conducted to ensure the best deal, as is the policy of other governments and even some private companies,” Wagner said in the statement. “Much like the recent move of the County Police to the former Parkway Center Mall property, moving the call center to the airport is likely to increase rental costs to the taxpayers, in this case for a facility that was built at public expense to begin with.”

The state provided $4 million in grants and tax credits to help build the center in Moon in 2008, beating out Charlotte and Phoenix.

Wagner expressed concern about moving the 911 center from the city to Moon, which may be hard to access to for some employees.

“I think it will take a little bit of time for them to get their arms around where we’ve chosen. But I think in general, they, as well as myself feel a little bit comforted after today because a decision has been made,” county EMS Chief Matt Brown said. “They’ve known for quite a few years that there was a need to move, that we needed to expand beyond what the building provided for today as well as the technology; it was just a matter of the decision that we’ve made as to where we went, and now that’s been made. Now we can work together to make the plans for our future for the next 20 years.”

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh will vote Thursday to issue a request for proposals to sell and develop the Point Breeze site. The county has 10 leases for 176,091 square feet of office space at the Point Breeze site, known as the Lexington Technology Park. About 650 to 675 county employees work there.

Wagner’s audit had suggested that it could cost $4 million to renovate the former US Airways Operations Center.

The Department of Emergency Services will be the only tenant in the former operations center, providing increased security and better management and operation, the county said.

The county has received about $7.8 million in grants from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to assist with the move and to update aging equipment.

Some of the $1.05 million rent payment will be offset through sharing services with the airport, the county said. The additional space will allow the 911 Center to expand and accommodate any of the 13 municipalities that have their own 911 centers, should they choose to join the county.

The county’s 911 center serves 95 police agencies, 169 fire departments and 40 emergency medical service agencies.

Aaron Aupperlee and Emma Curtis are Tribune-Review staff writers.

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