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New regional dispatch center takes a major step forward with hiring of architectural firm

St. Paul-based SHE Architectural Firm has been hired to oversee the development of a proposed replacement for the current Red River Regional Dispatch Center.

3 Even early in the morning the operators at Red River Dispatch answer 911 calls (1).jpg
Even early in the morning, the operators at the Red River Regional Dispatch Center answer 911 calls. W. Scott Olsen / Special to The Forum

FARGO — A major step is being taken to construct a new Red River Regional Dispatch Center with the hiring of a St. Paul-based architectural firm.

Cass County Administrator Robert Wilson said the SHE Architectural Firm has "a deep and vast understanding of designing dispatch centers."

The firm was selected from a field of five architects by a committee of representatives of the five governmental operations involved in the 911 dispatching operation, which is thought to be the only one in the nation that crosses state lines.

The hiring of the architect and approving Cass County as the fiscal agent and lead for the project is currently being approved by the elected boards for Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo, Clay County and Cass County, which formed the joint center in 2003.

Fargo and Moorhead city leaders on Monday night approved those key steps in the project that will hopefully start in the spring and begin operations in the new building in mid-2023.

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Wilson said the architects will provide estimates on the cost, square footage and equipment needed as well as conceptual drawings of what the expanded facility might look like.

It's expected the center will be relocated from downtown Fargo. A possible location is next to the Sanford Medical Center where some property is available, Fargo Fire Chief Steve Dirksen, who has been actively involved in the planning which has covered almost three years, said.

Wilson said the site, however, "isn't a lock."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had toured the current center in 2018 and recommended that it be moved away from the railroad tracks in Fargo for safety reasons . The agency also brought up other concerning facets of the building, which was the impetus for constructing a new facility.

Besides the safety issues, the population of the two counties has risen from 174,367 in 2010 to 249,843 in the current census. That has caused an increase in calls and requires boosting the dispatch stations from eight to the 10 that are currently needed with an estimated 14 or more needed in the next 10 to 15 years.

"We would like to have this new facility last another 50 years," Moorhead Public Safety Planner Rich Duysen told the City Council on Monday night.

Financing, of course, will be a major issue. Wilson said it's "very early in the process" but it's possible the counties would use some of their federal pandemic relief funds to help pay for structure, which would be allowed.

"It's a big undertaking, but we are going to figure it out," Wilson said. What's impressive, he said, is how the metro community has been making the joint center work and he believes the cooperation will continue.

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Duysen said the cooperation on the project so far has been "really, really high."

A surcharge on phone bills for 911 services is used for operations of the dispatch center which has been understaffed in recent months.

However, Dispatch Center Director Mary Phillippi said this week that they have seven conditional job offers out which would bring the center up to 42 dispatchers.

Phillippi said dispatch centers around the nation are having a tough time finding enough dispatchers.

She's optimistic about bringing the local operation up to full staff, though, if the seven jobs are filled. She added that the center's board of authority — which consists of police chiefs, sheriffs and fire chiefs in the two counties — has approved hiring up to four more dispatchers next year.

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