DEVENS -- On Tuesday, ground broke on 270 Barnum Road on Devens, the site of the future Nashoba Valley Regional Dispatch Center.
The project is a collaborative effort spearheaded by MassDevelopment which repurposes a former preschool into a state-of-the-art command post for police, fire and ambulance dispatching for four communities: Devens, Harvard, Lancaster and Lunenburg.
MassDevelopment Executive Vice President for Devens Operations George Ramirez opened the ceremony with a Chinese proverb, "May you live in interesting times."
Ramirez said despite the tough economy, MassDevelopment has prevailed in its build-out of the former Fort Devens Army base lands, decommissioned in 1996.
Ramirez is proud of the agency's recent Devens achievements, including the relocation of several businesses, including Laddawn, Quiet Logistics, and the just-announced commitment by French-based Saint-Gobain SA to take over half of the now-vacant 450,000 square foot Evergreen Solar plant down the street on Barnum Road.
Ramirez also pointed to the development of 20 low-energy housing units on Devens.
"Devens has a lot to be proud of," said Ramirez. "We're certainly on the move."
Ramirez was the first of several officials to offer hearty thanks to retired Devens Fire Chief Thomas Garrity who envisioned the regional dispatching effort and continued to facilitate the project after his retirement last year.
Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco
"I can't even get that kind of consensus in my own house," Pacheco said.
Ramirez thanked Harvard Town Administrator Tim Bragan for his involvement in the project. The Harvard Board of Selectmen unanimously signed onto the regional dispatch center in September. Bragan thanked the respective boards of selectmen for embracing the regional approach.
"They have taken the votes to allow this to happen and bring us together," said Bragan.
Lunenburg Town Manager Kerry Speidel said the chore for smaller towns is to "break down barriers and look at things differently than we have in the past."
While it's good to be a "founding member" of the center, Speidel said it's in the collaborative's interest to expand, with the dual goals of increased service levels "at a reasonable price."
It was a victory for MassDevelopment on the Devens front following the March 28 defeat by Ayer and Harvard voters of a 250-unit affordable-apartment proposal for Vicksburg Square. President and CEO Marty Jones said some say it's "impossible" to align towns on joint projects.
"I'm happy to be here today to prove that's not the case," said Jones.
Jones praised the "similarly minded" member towns for moving the dispatching project forward.
Frank Pozniak, executive director of the State 911 System, said enabling legislation from 2008 permits the multi-community dispatching effort to proceed. The goal is to reduce the current 258 public-safety "answering spots" down to 240 dispatching centers by the end of 2013.
"We are making progress," said Pozniak.
Without revealing the amount, Pozniak said the dispatch center will learn the fate of its fiscal 2013 grant request later this week.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, praised the town leaders for being "very visionary" and showing "a lot of leadership and innovation." Eldridge said the regionalized approach will serve as the latest collaborative success story for the state.
By supporting the center with an initial $1.39 million grant, Eldridge said it's further proof that the Patrick administration is "putting their money where their mouths are" in seeking regionalized fixes to find economies of scale while delivering upgrades services.
It's estimated that each town that participates in the Nashoba Valley Regional Dispatch District will save about $100,000 each year simply by being a member of the collaborative. Following the interior retrofit, the center is scheduled to open within a year.
The new dispatch center will not serve as a walk-in police station lobby for the public or patrolmen. Rather the center will stick to one function -- shared dispatching.
The center will occupy 5,000 square feet of space in the 25,000-square-foot building. The Evergreen Garden Play School will continue to occupy about 10,000 square feet of space in an adjacent wing of the complex.
The school and the dispatching center will be separated by the empty space. Bulletproof glass is to be installed. A radio tower is to be erected across the street to aid in signal reach. The hope is that the vacant space will someday be filled if and when the center expands beyond the initial four member communities.
MassDevelopment has labored over the concept for two years. It was once pegged as a $7.5 million combined Devens fire and police station project at 279 Barnum Road on land behind the existing Devens Fire Department on Jackson Road. The former plan sought a multicommunity buy-in on the regional dispatching piece of the project.
That earlier vision faded in June 2010 when MassDevelopment pulled the plug on the earlier, more-aggressive 22,000-square-foot public-safety center. The lack of grant dollars were blamed but there was also vocal opposition to the proposal as it was framed at that time.