March 12, 2009 Eagle-Tribune Article

Construction to start on $7M regional 911 dispatch center North Andover, Methuen to be served

By Mark E. Vogler

Thirteen Essex County cities and towns - including North Andover and Methuen - would be served by a regional emergency 911 dispatch center that received a commitment of nearly $7 million from the Patrick Administration.

Existing dispatch centers in each of the participating communities would be closed and consolidated into a center to be built near the county jail in Middleton and managed by the Essex County Sheriff's Department.

Construction on the center will begin soon and it's expected to be operational within 18 months.

"Regionalizing emergency communications services allows for more efficient use of tax dollars and more effective delivery of government services," state Public Safety and Security Secretary Kevin Burke said yesterday of the development grant awarded by his agency.

But North Andover police Chief Richard Stanley — who has been an opponent of the project — yesterday said he continues to have doubts it will benefit his town.

"I think it's always good to receive funding for public safety projects," Stanley said in an interview last night.

"But in this particular case, there are many questions that need to be answered. I'm quite skeptical about maintaining a high level of service which our residents are used to," he said.

"I have great concerns about the overall costs. My first concern is the level of safety and service for police officers and residents. I will continue to look at this project closely," he said.

Initial plans call for the construction of a temporary modular building that will house 14 call-taking stations, providing enhanced 911 and emergency police, fire and EMS dispatch services to 13 communities.

The call center will serve approximately 215,000 people in Danvers, Essex, Manchester, Methuen, North Andover, Topsfield, Wenham, Beverly, Ipswich, Marblehead, Middleton, Swampscott and Hamilton.

The participating communities and the sheriff will determine a process for adding new towns.

Lawrence Fire Chief Peter Takvorian said he might be interested in joining in the future if participation benefits the city financially.

"I don't rule it out," Takvorian said in an interview last night.

"But if it costs us more to be a member of a regional center than it costs to run fire alarm (department's dispatch center), then it's tough to justify," the chief said.

The city decided not to join the regional center because it proved more costly than its current emergency operation — which involves eight dispatchers.

Unlike some communities that could put the dispatchers back on the fire trucks, Lawrence doesn't have that option because seven of the dispatchers are civilians, Takvorian said.

Correspondent Helsey Pletts contributed to this report.